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How to tell people TACTFULLY they are doing something wrong in Safety!

We all have egos and years of experience or knowledge in how to do stuff, regardless if it is JSA, dip test a tank, or change a tire.  But just because we have done it for years without incident or events it does mean our actions or procedures are right and we get hurt feelings when someone comes along as state NO THAT’S NOT THE WAY TO DO IT!  Remember not ALL HILLS are worth DYING ON!

On top of few choice four letter words and sign language exchanged by some the better way is use TACT!  Tact is the ability to deliver a difficult message in a way that considers other people’s feelings and preserves relationships. It encompasses many things, such as emotional intelligence, discretion, compassion, honesty, and courtesy.

Managers and leaders make mistakes, but errors made at their level can be particularly costly – and, in some cases, disastrous. Reputations are built and ruined, money made and lost, and success earned and risked on the basis of the decisions they take. I remember where a company I was working for had a huge oil/produced water spill and on top of the clean-up problems they were under the gun to find answer for the board of directors.  The QC/QA they had on site and a MASTER Engineer in oilfield processing, in this field was checking the units out and especially since he had built them, and along comes me in safety. I said far be it that I am no engineer and I have no real qualifications but the reason for the failure of alarms and shut downs is the safety value and check valve are in backwards.  On top of few words on I was uneducated and had no idea what I was saying , the engineer, ( you know the one who was the master) kept looking at the site, forty five minutes later he comes over and said Im sorry I was wrong and you were right the safety equipment was in wrong and he could understand why he the MASTER had not seen it when it was commissioned in the first place. Not wanting to make his day worse I said oh interesting at least we have our root in the why of the event. I didn’t want to tell him I have my engineering degree. Understanding what is the most appropriate behaviour and in any given situation can be problematic; this is due to the unpredictable nature of communication and of human relations generally.

Sometimes the most appropriate action may be to withhold your opinion, or it may be possible to introduce an idea, or favoured outcome, in such a way that the other person can take ownership of it. In other situations it may be best to take a direct stance, stating exactly what you want and how you intend to achieve it.

Understanding what is the most appropriate behaviour and in any given situation can be problematic; this is due to the unpredictable nature of communication and of human relations generally.

Sometimes the most appropriate action may be to withhold your opinion, or it may be possible to introduce an idea, or favoured outcome, in such a way that the other person can take ownership of it. In other situations it may be best to take a direct stance, stating exactly what you want and how you intend to achieve it.

To develop tact, think carefully before you speak. Always consider how someone else might interpret your words. Use active listening skills, pay attention to your body language, and never react emotionally.

We all have to communicate painful or sensitive information at some point in our careers. And, while it’s important to tell the truth, we need to think about how we do it. Tact allows us to be honest, while respecting a person’s feelings. When we communicate tactfully, we can preserve relationships, build credibility, and demonstrate thoughtfulness.

What is Tact?

Tact is the ability to tell the truth in a way that considers other people’s feelings and reactions. It allows you to give difficult feedback, communicate sensitive information, and say the right thing to preserve a relationship.

Tact encompasses many things, including emotional intelligence , respect, discretion, self-awareness , thoughtfulness, compassion, subtlety, honesty, diplomacy, and courtesy.

By communicating tactfully strengthens your reputation and builds your credibility . It allows you to preserve existing relationships and build new ones. A tactful approach shows character , maturity, professionalism , and integrity .

Tact also demonstrates good manners . If you can communicate with grace and consideration, you’ll stand out from the crowd, and you’ll get noticed  for the right reasons. This can lead to career opportunities.

Finally, tact can help you to avoid conflict, find common ground, and allow others to save face. It can therefore be an important asset in negotiations and in conflict resolution.

Tact is strongly influenced by culture.

What might be seen as open, fair feedback in some cultures might be seen as profoundly rude in others; while a message from a manager from a tactful culture may be seen as weak – or missed entirely – by a team member from a more forthright one.

Make sure that you are culturally alert  when providing feedback to people from a different background. And tweak the examples below to suit your own culture.

It’s great to be tactful, however, you also need to get your message across and ensure that your own rights are respected. Make sure that you handle issues assertively , not submissively, when you are being tactful.

Create the Right Environment, and Think Before You Speak

How many times have you spoken too quickly, and then regretted it?

First, practice active listening  when others speak. Then, use empathy  and emotional intelligence  to connect with people, and to see things from their perspective. Last, work to build trust , so that people know that your intentions are honest and compassionate.

Determine the Appropriate Time

Tact means saying the right thing at the right time. Consider your situation before you speak, and be discreet. Make sure that you stay conscious of who you’re with – and where you are – before you speak.

Choose Words Carefully

Your choice of words can influence how others perceive your message.

Avoid starting sentences with the word “you.” For example, saying, “You need to do better next time” will make the other person feel defensive. Instead, consider using softer, more indirect language, like, “Next time, I think your presentation would be stronger if you spent more time on research.”

It’s especially important to use “I” statements during conflict, or when you give constructive criticism. When you do this, you take ownership of your feelings instead of placing blame. For example, say, “I see it differently,” or, “I had to go over that section several times before I understood your message.”

You could also use a “cushion,” or connecting statement, when you disagree with someone. For example, you can cushion the message, “You’re wrong – our team did well last quarter,” with, “I appreciate your opinion, but our team did well last quarter.”

Also, when you’re in a tense conversation, be concise. It’s tempting to keep talking when you feel uncomfortable, which increases the chance that you’ll say too much or say something that you’ll regret. Be honest and assertive , and only say what you need to say.

Watch Your Body Language

When you’re tactful, your body language  matches your message, and you appear open when you’re communicating, even if you’re giving bad news. For instance, make eye contact, don’t cross your arms or legs, don’t point, and practice good posture. Open body language and a courteous vocal tone communicate your truthfulness and willingness to work together.

Never React Emotionally

It’s hard to communicate tactfully when you feel angry or upset. Give yourself time to calm down before you respond.

Learn how to control your emotions  at work. To calm down from a stressful situation, take a break from it and go for a walk, or use deep breathing  techniques to regain your composure.

It’s also important to understand people, words, issues, or situations that can cause you to communicate without tact. Think back to the last time you lost your temper or said something you later regretted. Why did you react this way? What caused you to lose control?

When you understand your triggers, you’ll be better able to control your emotions or walk away in the future.

Handling Disagreements

Tact is particularly useful in conflict resolution , because it can relieve tension, remove blame, and allow both sides to save face.

For example, imagine that you and your colleague have argued over who gets to manage the next team project. Your colleague has run the last two projects, and she wants to lead this one because it fits with her expertise.

Before you insist that you take over this project, think about her position. She ran the previous projects with finesse and professionalism. Also, this project is a perfect fit for her – you might struggle with it because you don’t have her experience.

A tactful response to this conflict would be, “You’re right. You should run this project because it matches your skills. I need some practice in a team leadership role, too, so how do you feel about me shadowing you, and then leading the next project?”

Do Your Homework

You must be certain that your boss has actually made an error before you mention it. Remember that he likely has access to more information than you and that he could, in fact, be right. Double check the issue, because flagging something incorrectly will only make you look out of touch.

Check Your Motives

Also consider whether you feel like speaking up just to be contrary or nitpicky. You could be about to make matters a whole lot worse, without good cause. But if there’s a solid business reason to worry, or if the mistake might damage your boss’s reputation, she may be relieved to hear your concerns.

Time It Right

Choosing the right moment to grab your boss’s attention is crucial. Don’t expect to be able to stride into his office with a list of problems and receive a warm welcome, or to raise the issue in a team meeting and be thanked for it. Difficult conversations will most likely go well when you allow your boss to choose a time when he can give you his full attention.

Show Respect and Humility

Whenever possible, speak to your boss privately, so that you don’t publicize the issue and embarrass her in front of other people.

Start by politely asking permission to discuss a difficult issue. This gives your boss a moment to brace herself and to invite you to continue.

Mind Your Language

Tread carefully when using words like “wrong” and “mistake.” An “I told you so” tone and blunt language that apportions blame will make it appear as if you’re out to “score a win.” If your boss thinks that you’ve come to expose or insult her, she’ll just dig in or, worse, retaliate.

Escalate Your Concern Cautiously

If you feel that your boss’s error has legal, financial or health and safety implications, you could be justified in escalating your concerns. The HR department is often a good place to go to test out your concerns, in confidence before turning to your boss’s boss.

Admit Your Own Mistake

At some point in this process, you might find that it’s you who’s made a mistake. Your reaction to being corrected can matter as much as how you told your boss that he was wrong.

Let Go

Sometimes, you have to accept that the other person will press ahead. Maybe you failed to convince her, or she can’t be seen to change her mind. Whatever the reason, when it becomes clear that she’s “sticking to her guns” it’s usually best to bow out gracefully and avoid raising the issue again.