Talent is something, but tact is everything. Talent is no match for tact; we see its failure everywhere. In the growth of life, common sense has the right of way. Tact is extremely delicate quality, difficult to define, hard to cultivate, but absolutely indispensable to one who wishes to get on in the world rapidly and smoothly. Some people possess this exquisite sense in such a degree that they never offend, and yet they say everything that they wish to. They apparently do not restrain themselves and say things with impunity which, if said by many others, would give mortal offense. On the other hand, certain people, no matter what they say, cannot seem to avoid irritating the sensitiveness of others, although they mean well.
Such people go through life misunderstood, for they cannot quite adjust themselves to circumstances. The way is never quite clear. They are continually running against something. They are always causing offense without meaning to, uncovering blemishes or sore spots. They invariably appear at the wrong time and do the wrong thing. They never get hold of the right end of the thread, so that the spool does not unravel, but the more they pull, the worse they tangle the threads. Who can estimate the loss to the world which results from the lack of tact, the blundering, the stumbling, the slips, the falls, the fatal mistakes which come to people because they do not know how to do the right thing at the right time! How often we see splendid ability wasted, or not used effectively, because people lack this indefinable, exquisite quality which we call “tact.”
You may have a college education; you may have a rare training in your specialty; you may be a genius in certain lines, and yet not get on in the world; but if you have tact and one talent combined with stick-to-it-habit, you will be promoted, you will surely climb. No matter how much ability a man may have, if he lacks the tact to direct it effectively, to say the right thing and to do the right thing at just the right time, he cannot make it effective. Thousands of people accomplish more with small ability and great tact than those with great ability and little tact. Everywhere we see people tripping themselves up, making breaks which cost friendships, customers, money, simply because they have never developed this faculty.
Merchants are losing customers; lawyers, influential clients; physicians, patients; editors sacrificing subscribers; clergyman losing their power in the pulpit and their hold upon the public; teachers losing their situations; politicians losing their hold upon the people, because of the lack of tact. Tact is a great asset in business, especially for a merchant. In a large city where hundreds of concerns are trying to attract the customer’s attention, tact plays a very important part. One prominent business man puts tact at the head of the list in his success recipe, the other three things being: enthusiasm, knowledge of business, dress. The following paragraph, in a letter which a merchant sent out to his customers, is an example of shrewd business tact:
“We should be thankful for any information of any dissatisfaction with any former transactions with us, and we will take immediate steps to remedy it.” Think of the wealthy customers that have been driven away from banks by the lack of tact on the part of a cashier or teller! A man must possess the happy faculty of winning the confidence of his fellow-beings and making steadfast friends, if he would be successful in his business or profession. Good friends praise our books at every opportunity, “talk up” our wares, expatiate at length on our last case in court, or on our efficiency in treating some patient; they protect our name when slandered, and rebuke our maligners. Without tact, the gaining of friends who will render such services is impossible.
A young man with very ordinary ability gained a seat in the United States Senate largely because of his wonderful tact. A great many men are held down, kept back, because they cannot get along well with others. They are so constituted that they nettle others, run against their prejudices. They cannot seem to cooperate with other people. The result is they have to work alone, and they lose the strength which comes from solidarity. I know a man whose effectiveness during a very strenuous life has been almost ruined by the lack of tact. He can never get along with people. He seems to have every other quality necessary to make a good man, a leader of men, but his faculty for antagonizing others has crippled his life.
He is always doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, hurting people’s feelings without meaning to, counteracting the ‘effectiveness of his own work, because he has not the slightest appreciation of what the word tact means. He is constantly giving offense.