"Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip." ~ Winston Churchill, among his alcoholic ramblings (just kidding, that's not true).
Exceptional application of tact to a situation is quite nearly magic. The phrasing of your incantation could abruptly devolve a conversation to fisticuffs, or it could convince the other person to give you the shirt off their back, and be glad for the opportunity. Okay, that might be a bit much, but tact can, and often does, make all the difference when it comes to getting what you're aiming for. You'll reduce the defensiveness of others, improve the likelihood of them considering your ideas, and increase the chances of people going out of their way to help you.
When you're having a conversation (written or verbal), aside from being kind and ensuring your tone is appropriate, there are a few things that can help you shift conversations in a positive direction, and help you and your team be as successful as possible.
On, that note, one of the biggest things to remember is that you're almost always part of a team. Whether it's your family, your college project group, your colleagues at work, or even just your friend group, you're part of a team. A team is a single unit. A team succeeds or a team fails. If one member of the team fails, all members of that team have failed. As a good team member, you need to work not only on your own goals, but make sure everyone else also has the ability to succeed. If they don't, why don't they? What can be done to help them? If something didn't get done, why didn't it? How could the rest of the team have helped things get done more smoothly? While this isn't a blog post about teamwork, per say, the mindset of 'this is a team, and we all succeed and fail together' is very helpful when figuring out how to phrase some difficult topics while chatting with others.
For example, if you're curious whether or not a particular thing got done, the simple difference between "did that get done?" and "did you get that done?" is quite meaningful. The former is asking if a task was finished, and doesn't imply blame towards anyone. The latter is asking whether a specific person got something done, which implies that it's a particular person alone that caused the thing to get or not get done. In reality, the team either succeeded or failed, and the question should reference that.
Let's say that the something you're asking about didn't get done. When you inquire as to why, you could say "what caused it to not get done?" which isn't too bad. It doesn't imply blame, or single anyone out. However, it also doesn't fortify the idea of a team, and won't make the person you're asking feel as if they're truly being backed up by the team. Something like "What can we do to get this done as soon as possible?". Depending on what the item is, you could also make some suggestions of how the team can help. It may be something as simple as the person not being able to access some required software, or get in touch with a particular person.
Another thing to consider when you're chatting is who you place the onus for something on. Let's say you're describing a plan, a concept, or something along those lines. When you've finished, you might ask "Does everyone understand?" By asking someone if they understand something, there's an implication that you, as the presenter, have done your job well, and that, if they don't understand, they are at fault. This can cause people to be defensive, or to refrain from asking questions, as they don't want to be seen as having failed. However, if you put the onus for any failure on yourself, you'll help reduce the likelihood of those things happening. For example, you might instead ask "Have I described that well?". This not only reduces the problems mentioned, it also solicits feedback. You've encouraged them to 'help you out' by pointing out any potentially confusing parts.
In fact, much of what people call tact is convincing people that they're doing something kind for you. This puts them in a position of power (whether they have any or not) and generally makes them feel a bit more magnanimous. In the case above, you've convinced the team that they're doing you a favor by asking questions, whereas the reality is that you're attempting to help the team by making sure everyone is on the same page. In a similar way, another common way to employ this magical 'tact' thing is to phrase things as a question or a request, even when they aren't.
For example, if you're the raid leader (or the Dragon Extermination Team manager, if we want to make it sound boring), you need to get everyone moving in the right direction to accomplish the goal. Let's say you've developed a badass plan. When you're providing everyone with their tasks, you could give specific instructions. However, giving someone an instruction has the same effect as the above situation where you ask if someone understands what you just said. It shuts down communication. Instead, you can phrase things as more of a request, or suggestion. "When we get in there, I think the tanks should run up to the dragon and start punching him in his stupid dragon face until they gain the aggro. Does that sound like a good idea?"
Now, it's very important that the tanks run in and start lizard-smacking that beast, but you're more likely to get a positive response if you make it seem like an option. Your guild members know it isn't, but most will appreciate the thought. As an additional gain, someone may see a bit of a flaw in the plan, and be more willing to bring it up, if you make your instruction sound like a request. For example, maybe punching a dragon in the face will lead to some bitten off arms, or an unnecessary number of crispy fried tanks. Maybe flanking the dragon, instead of running headlong into its primary weapon, is a better plan. Jussayin'.
As a general rule of thumb, think of every situation as if the entire team succeeds or fails. Individual members don't succeed alone, and they don't fail alone. The more successful you are at constantly being in this mindset, the more naturally 'tact' will flow out of you.
I hope you've found some value in this brief overview of tact (magic), and I'll see you next time.