Where Has the Finesse Gone?

Posted by


“I tell it like it is.” “I’m a straight shooter.” As a culture, we value honesty. We want people to be straight with us. We even ask people to stop beating around the bush. 

But the more we hear these pronouncements, the less they seem to be about a desire for honesty and the more they seem to be an excuse for the missing ingredient (finesse) that would inspire someone to act.

Finesse is a must-have in the business world—especially among leaders. It is nurtured by study and a personal emphasis on empathy, reports marytrigiani.com.

Finesse is a social skill. And while there are definitely people who seem to pick up on it effortlessly, everyone can learn it, suggests psychologytoday.com writer Hara Estroff Marano. She lists several of the following as the key techniques to be mastered:

  • ThinkstockPhotos-162277417Gracefully enter and exit the activities and conversations of others
  • Read other people well
  • Find common ground with others
  • Defuse negativity
  • Peacefully solve conflicts
  • Enlist others in support of a goal
  • Say “no” gracefully
  • Neutralize gossip

But how do we fine-tune finesse and become better at the social interactions so necessary for leadership in the business world? When we need to communicate painful information, how do we develop a more sensitive way of communicating that still manages to get the point across?

Using tact and finesse in communications means that we speak honestly but preserve other people’s feelings. To preserve someone else’s feelings, you must first be able to sense what those feelings are. Whether giving feedback or delivering upsetting information, there’s a right way to say things.

Use these tips to help you develop as a tactful communicator:

  1. Think before you speak. This takes discipline. Listen carefully when someone is speaking so you fully understand what the other person is saying. Then pause to give yourself a chance to consider the other person’s perspective.
  2. Ask clarifying questions when necessary. After the person has finished speaking and you’ve considered what they’ve said, think about what information you’re missing. Are you making any assumptions? If so, clear them up by asking a question.
  3. There’s a right time and place. Telling someone about your big promotion when they’ve just been given bad news about their own job is an obvious no-no.
  4. Choose your words carefully. “I” statements are usually best. “You” statements tend to place blame and put the other person on the defensive. Don’t overtalk. Keep it simple and concise. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” when necessary.
  5. ThinkstockPhotos-122402029Make sure your body language matches your words. Look the speaker in the eye so they can see that you’re being honest. You may be paying attention, but you need to also look like you’re paying attention. Don’t fidget. Don’t look at your phone or your computer screen.
  6. Keep emotions in check. Walk away if you need to rather than say something you’ll regret later.

Effectiveness in the business world is only partially dependent on what you know—your expertise. It’s tact and finesse that will enable you to get things done when working with the people around you. Don’t use honesty as an excuse for not considering the valid feelings and opinions of colleagues. And don’t interrupt people when they’re carefully trying to find the right words to tell you something—they might be working to build their own finesse skills.

Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.