The ABC’s of Wisdom: Building Character with Solomon - Tact
Making a Point Without Making an Enemy
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
Someone noted that tact is like a girdle. It enables you to organize the awkward truth more attractively. A Chinese proverb says it this way: Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from a friend’s forehead.
Both those statements remind us that often we are called up to say “hard truth” to others. Sometimes that means risking the love of those we hold most dear. We must tell them the truth or they will not get better. Perhaps they simply don’t see it, or don’t want to see it. They may have a bad habit that is holding them back, or they may have an unseen character flaw that causes them to lose the respect of others. You know it, you see it, and you care about them. Do you care enough to tell the truth? Do you also care enough to speak with tact?
Proverbs 25:15 spells out two strategies you can use. The first is patience. That means waiting till the right moment to speak your mind. Timing is everything. If you embarrass someone publicly, he isn’t likely to respond favorably. Likewise, if you ambush someone the moment he walks through the door, he will regard your words as a personal attack. So before you speak, take your time. Think. Pray. Ask God to give you an open door. When it comes, then you are ready for the second strategy.
Second, use a gentle tongue. Just as a “gentle answer turns away wrath” (15:1), even so a gentle tongue can break a bone. Here is the picture of a hardened bone being softened bit by bit by the touch of a gentle tongue. It won’t happen quickly, but in most cases gentleness accomplishes far more than threats or intimidation.
In making a plea for tact, I am asking for nothing more than that we “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Jesus did it, and is remembered today as the supreme embodiment of love. Yet no one ever spoke the truth like He did. He wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power, to challenge the rulers of His day. And when necessary He didn’t hesitate to take a whip and clean out the temple-which doesn’t sound like a very tactful thing to do. But He did it, and since He was the Son of God it must have been the right thing to do.
So what exactly is this gentle tongue that can break a bone? It is the ability to say the right thing at the right time in the right way without saying anything you didn’t want to say and that didn’t need to be said. A tactful person seeks to find a private place and a fitting moment. It means you refuse to dump all your frustrations on another person. You say what needs to be said in the quickest, kindest, most direct way possible. Then you move on.
Tact is really nothing more than wisdom applied to the “girdle moments” of life. Remember, when you have to speak the awkward truth, don’t use a hatchet to get rid of a fly.
Lord Jesus, I pray for Your Spirit to fill my lips so that I might speak as You did. Amen.
Do you have trouble with tact? If in doubt, ask a friend and you’ll get a quick answer.
What is the difference between tact and flattery? Between boldness and brusqueness? Why do we so often confuse them?
Give an example showing how tact helped you deal with a difficult situation. Or, looking back, you wish you had shown more tact than you did.
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