After a long day, I was always grateful when I got to my apartment and could unwind from the stress of the day. As I placed my foot on the step to walk up to my second floor apartment, I heard the door open to the corner apartment and the elderly lady who lived there walked out. To my surprise, she began to speak to me.
“Excuse me. Have you tasted those new international coffees that they have been advertising on TV? I bought some today and have heated some water. I was wondering if you would like to join me for a cup of coffee,” she said.
I was shocked. I had lived upstairs for at least six months and had said hello to this neighbor a couple of time but that was it. Because my mother had taught me to always respect my elders, I knew exactly what to do. “Why thank you, ma’am,” I said as I walked toward her door, “it would be my pleasure. My name is Len.” I extended my hand and gave her a gentle handshake.
We looked at the different coffees and selected the flavor we thought was best. As she began to prepare our coffee, she told me to go ahead and have a seat at the head of the table. As I prepared to sit down, I could not help but notice that two table lamps were sitting right in front of the chair in which I was about to sit. “Ma’am, do you want me to move these lamps?”
I was about to get a wonderful lesson in the art of tact.
In the Marine Corps, we joking defined tact as the ability to tell someone to go to Hades (I cleaned this up for this audience) and have them thank you for the travel advice. However, being tactful means you know how to deal with people in a manner that will ensure good relations and avoid problems. To accomplish this, always remember:
Be polite and courteous. Nothing breaks down barriers faster than good manners. Send the message that you are going to treat the person you are engaging with dignity and respect, and their natural reaction will be to treat you in the same manner. The Golden Rule (treat others as you wish to be treated) really is important.
Remain calm. This is especially important when you are facing a big challenge that may seem daunting to the other person or to your team. Be prepared with the facts and present your plan in a professional manner that clearly conveys the message that “we will work together to accomplish the impossible.”
Be firm. Being tactful does not mean you allow anyone to walk all over you. You are attempting to steer a person or your team in a direction that will guarantee success. You need not be ashamed of doing that so as politely and calmly as you can, present your position in a manner that helps them see the positive results and the rewards that comes from a job well done.
So, how did my sweet neighbor teach me an important lesson in tact that night? As she brought me my coffee, she explained how the lamps reminded her of a trip she took with her husband who had passed away a couple of years earlier. She wanted to continue using them because of the wonderful memories they represented. But the cords were frayed, and she was afraid they were now too dangerous to use. If only she knew someone who could rewire them for her. She had purchased what she needed to rewire them but just had no idea how to fix them herself.
Why, she was in luck. I had learned to rewire a lamp back in high school shop class. Because she was so kind as to share her international coffee with me, it just seemed the right thing to do so I offered to rewire the lamps for her. She was so surprised but quickly retrieved the items she had purchased from the hardware store. (Seeing a whole reel of lamp cord and a full bag of plugs should have been a warning but I just figured she did not realize she did not need all these items for two lamps). As I sipped my coffee, I began the process of rewiring the lamps while she shared the wonderful story of how she and her husband had found them and purchased them.
Once I was done, I asked her where she would like me to place the lamps. She told me she had moved one of her bedroom lamps to one of the end tables temporarily and if I would replace the lamps on the end tables and then put the other lamp back to her bedroom she would really appreciate it. As I went to unplug the lamp that was to be returned to the bedroom, I noticed that the cord on this lamp was also in bad shape. I told her that this lamp really needed to be rewired also and that I better check the other one that was in the bedroom. Before long, I was now rewriting these lamps for her while she told me the story of how her husband had surprised her with these lamps as an anniversary gift. Before the night was over, I had rewired every lamp in her apartment, the light in her china cabinet, and really began to understand what a wonderful man her husband was as she talked of their many travels and the story behind so many items in her home. And can you believe it…she had just the right amount of plugs in the bag from the hardware store to complete this task.
I knew long before I left her apartment that my neighbor had carefully set me up so that I would end up taking care of all her lamps. But the very tactful way that she was able to get me to volunteer to do the first couple of lamps so that I felt good about helping her always stuck with me. I knew if I could learn to be as tactful, I could not only lead my people, I could do so in a manner that encouraged them to follow me.
My mom always told me that you will catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar. I now understand exactly what she was trying to teach me. If you want to be an exceptional leader, then utilize the tool called tact to encourage your team to follow you, not because you said so, but because they are able to see and share in your vision.
Originally published by Bizcatalyst360
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