In a conversation yesterday, the word ‘tact’ came up. It was clear to me that the person I was talking with seemed to not be aware of what this word means, in English, even though the person said that he had heard it spoken in context, in native English, before. Definition of tact at this online dictionary page.

I was really surprised. But as we got to talking, I realized something.


Leaders who lead with tact: can you spot them?

Implementing tact is like pre-emptively ‘saving face’ for Western culture. Up until this point, I had thought saving face was something really difficult to quantify and grasp, for those of us who grew up in a culture of do first, ask for forgiveness later. 

The culture I grew up in is like this. It likes to try things. We love agile. We love small experiments. Like I said, trying things. We want to see what happens when we put into place to test out what responses we get. Feedback goes back in, fuzzy logic style, to inform the new ways of offering and product-designing. But we don’t want to offend anyone, so we employ tact.

Tact. The keyword of the day.

Years ago, one of my clients at DK was a top N. America-market sales consultant for a Fortune 500 company. We met, exchanged cards. Two years later, I got call, ‘Can you help me with a new marketing project? I need a design.’ He was going out on his own. He hired DK for the brand strategy and thinking out what the ‘look and feel’ would be.

I remember those meetings and how much fun they were. We talked a lot about design, but also, relationships between customers and service-providers. And would-be customers, too. There was so much learning in that exchange of meetings, I can’t believe how lucky I am that I got to be mentored along the way of designing a new brand for him.

And he told me to go read a book about how to sell without really selling, how to engage with people and see what their needs are, and then, how to show up at the moment where you are able to deliver on your promises. He also said, ‘I like to underpromise and overdeliver.’

This sits well with me, here at Design Kompany. I will add to it, though: I like to do good work, too. For me, that means, a high-quality relationship has been set up, rapport and trust built, and importantly, the results are much bigger than anyone could have imagined because we all put our hearts into things, instead of just ‘getting to done.’

But you need to be able to read the air, to borrow a Japanese expression. And have tact: because that’s, I believe, the Western equivalent of the Eastern concept of saving face. It’s just that you do it before you get into a mess, instead of after.