OPINION. Elena Scherl, Business Etiquette trainer: Basic rules on showing tact in business 

Newsroom 21/10/2019 | 12:41

Showing thoughtfulness means knowing what to say and when, knowing how to behave in various contexts and situations so that people around you feel at ease. It’s about what we do actively, but it’s equally about not doing anything, overlooking certain things and allowing the other person to save face.

Elena Scherl

Trainer and Business Etiquette expert

Regardless of whether we’re in a private or business environment, we all make efforts to present ourselves in the best possible way. It’s what sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) calls “impression management”. All of us make constant efforts to leave a good impression and to avoid leaving a bad impression, and in the business environment this is particularly important as it’s connected to one’s merit, competence or authority in a position.

Therefore, if we’re faced with other people breaking protocol, making a mistake or being clumsy, it is sensible to pretend we didn’t see it or just to show understanding through a smile. If we must criticize someone’s work, we should review their work and not the person.

If we must disagree, we should choose the most diplomatic words available in our vocabulary. If we must comment on a situation, we should avoid being passive-aggressive and starting our speech with “as I have previously explained”. Sometimes we might need to play along in a situation or eat something unpleasant, like some unknown animal part of great importance in some cultures.

At other times we might be tempted to just go against someone in a conversation, forgetting where the conversation even started. But showing tact means we won’t do so. We might feel like downgrading other people’s accomplishments, no matter how big or small, just because they don’t fit into our plans or preferences. But showing tact means we understand that life can’t always please us.

We might just want to bring doubt around us, as a way of validating our ego and status. But showing tact means we will think twice about the impact of our cynicism on a hopeful mind. Sometimes we’ll want to hang up on the young person calling us from a call-center trying to sell us something. Being considerate means we will politely decline and wish them an easy day ahead.

Sometimes we’ll take a stand and make a lifestyle out of  “I’m very straightforward. What you see is what you get. Whoever is offended can stop listening!”. But showing tact means we’ll use our better judgement in the business environment where our work depends on other people, who – unlike our friends – might not stick around.

The benefit of having the better judgement

We forget that we are easily capable of uplifting another person or completely ruining their day. Therefore, being thoughtful in the business environment means having the better judgment to understand the benefit of how we make people feel. Deep down, we all want things. And here we’re not in the habit of teaching people the high ground of morality but to offer a different perspective on how to get where we want in our professional life –  it’s called being efficient. Whether it’s recognition, status, power, authority or simply lots of money, it’s all deep down in our hearts and on our agenda: we know what we want, there’s always a purpose.

Being considerate is a simple way of improving our chances to get there because being considerate is what’ll build a good reputation, more than any intentional effort or campaign to “build a brand”.

We should stop thinking about branding and what we want from it and start thinking about being a bit more thoughtful to the other person. Everything else will follow.


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