I’m actually not the most tactful person by nature. But I have learned from direct experience that improving my tact and self control largely leads to freedom from self inflicted interpersonal problems. What does that mean? Well, the more that you consciously govern your behavior, the less you will say and do things that you regret or that ultimately sabotage your relationships and your happiness.
There are steps that you can take to increase your tact in conversations, and control your own behavior. If these steps do not prevent most conflicts, you still have a right to point out the mistakes and limitations of others if their behavior is hurting you. The downside to free will is that people can misuse it to harm others. People have a right to be wrong, just not to do wrong. Which is why it is essential to have strong personal boundaries when dealing with difficult or unethical people in your life. Here’s How:
Why Be Ethical?
1.) Having a good character generally gets you further in life and keeps you out of troublesome interpersonal situations and unnecessary drama. On the most basic level, if you are disagreeable, people won’t like you. Poor behavior also has immediate and tangible effects on your life when other people react negatively to it, or try to retaliate. If however, you are as kind and ethical as possible, it protects you from unnecessary problems. Kind, ethical, and responsible behaviors are practical behaviors because they protect you from conflict.
2.) Being kind and ethical is the right way to behave. Its a generally accepted principle that you should treat others how you would like to be treated yourself. At the very least, be neutral, not rude. Being kind or generous has a positive effect on happiness and self perception, because kindness makes others feel good. Try to occasionally go out of your way to help or to say a kind word to someone. Being unkind to a depressed person could push them over the edge, while one kind word can brighten their entire day.
3.) Being tactless, rude, and unkind makes makes you feel bad about yourself. Prolonged interpersonal problems and hostility build up inside a person and create internal tension as negative psychological forces. These emotions well up later as self doubt, anxiety, and self loathing. Unkind behavior and conflict also drain your energy, even if you don't immediately acknowledge it. You can eventually be brought down by your own compromised integrity, because it causes you to slowly fall apart on the inside unless you address the problem.
Handling Minor and Unintentional Conflicts
If you find that you have unintentionally hurt someone, then you probably need to work on your temper and tact. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, but the more you consciously work at it, the more you will improve your delivery in conversations. Even so, sometimes you may say something which comes out in a way that sounds rude, or someone may take offense despite your best efforts. Misunderstandings and disagreements can still happen even with the best intentions.
If someone takes offense to something you have said, or even if you think that they may have, you can apologize and explain that the comment was not malicious or intended to offend. Apologizing, and reminding yourself to learn from the situation, is probably the best that you can do to amend your behavior when there is a misunderstanding. If someone continues to be offended, and you have tried your best to make amends, remember that their reaction is ultimately their own responsibility.
People often take offense to something that wasn’t meant maliciously because the comment hits too close to home about the insecurities and self doubts they have. Since it is impossible for you to really know what kind of insecurities a person has about themselves, minimizing critical comments in conversation can help to keep misunderstandings to a minimum.
Dealing With Difficult People
Baring incidents where someone tries to steal from you or assault you physically, your strategy for dealing with difficult people may vary depending on who the person is. If a stranger is rude towards you, the most assertive thing to do is to ignore them and remove yourself from their presence. There is no point engaging someone you will never see again, especially if you think that engaging them may escalate the situation.
If a difficult person is your friend, colleague or family member, you may need to use assertive communication with them. You can say “your comment x or behavior y is upsetting me,” and explain why. Or, “I won’t accept you talking to me like that.”
If a person continually ignores your concerns, then you will need to set boundaries to protect yourself, such as removing yourself from their presence. When a person continually disregards your boundaries and refuses to acknowledge or change their behavior, you are well within your rights to remove them from your life. No one should consistently put up with unkind or unethical behavior.
The mental state that best facilitates assertiveness, is to remember that other people’s behavior is about them, not you. Period. If someone says something tactless or offensive to you, it is your choice whether or not to take offense, or ignore it. Other people’s views are just that; their views. Its up to you whether or not you will chose to take offense or get upset about any given statement or action.
It takes is considerable self-control not to take offense or get angry in the heat of an intense or upsetting moment, but the point of ethics is to gradually become good by increased self-control and willpower. If you keep calm, you can react more tactfully and assertively. Consider the words of Marcus Aurelius when you want to take offense or get angry at someone:
“Say nothing more to yourself than what the first appearances report. Suppose that it has been reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you. This has been reported; but that you have been injured, that has not been reported. I see that my child is sick. I do see; but that he is in danger, I do not see. Thus then always abide by the first appearances, and add nothing yourself self from within, and then nothing happens to you.” *
Remember, ultimately we all share this planet; we can either make life easy for each other or hard for each other based on our daily behavior. If everyone tried their best to progress towards increasingly more kind, tactful and ethical interpersonal behavior, the world would likely be a much better place.
* Meditations, VII, verse 49.
What Everyone Needs to Know About Violence and Self Defense