Between lies and truth, there’s omission, white lies, half-truths, confabulation and opinions. Somewhere there, around these themes, is also tact.
skill and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues.
I listened to Jocko Willink and Echo Charles talk about this as the most important feature of leadership. As it happens, I’m finding the Jocko Podcast to have refreshing ideas on leadership, business, and personal philosophy.
Telling the truth is important. Spouting a serious truth without any consideration for the listener’s mental state can be a dick move.
I’m in no way advocating lying or omitting facts in fear of hurting someone’s feelings. In fact, telling lies and keeping up and cataloguing them is mentally hard work. In a sense, one has to keep up multiple timelines about different truths, and perhaps even formulate several different versions of themselves. I myself have problems organising a surprise party, as lying is hard work.
But, one should not be an asshole for the sake of honesty. Sometimes honesty can be an excuse for being a dick, without any consideration for others. “Telling it like it is” is the opposite of tact, and often hazardous. Even though one acknowledges the truth or difficult facts, and the need to reveal them, subconscious feelings about the delivery affect the interpretation of the messenger.
There’s a chance for mixing tact with omitting or skewing the truth, when the needed courage to reveal the facts is missing. At this point I can imagine tact (or any other such “soft” skill) used as an excuse for lying. Dealing with a difficult issue often requires courage, and doing so with tact takes discipline, consideration and analysis of the situation. It is more difficult.
Communicating with tact requires an understanding of the other person’s mental state, their history, and the current surroundings. This makes me think of ideas described in books Nonviolent Communication and Anatomy of Peace. A core idea from both, though much simplified, is understanding the other person and the situation from their perspective. And then acting accordingly.
In the end, this is nothing complex, and achievable with common sense, non-sociopathic and aware behaviour. Tact should be the default, and only in some scenarios, is hardcore no-nonsense truth required.