( Originally Published 1912 )
IT is generally conceded that Mark Antony won his hearing before the Roman mob by his incomparable tact. His speech is worthy of careful analysis by any one desirous of knowing how to argue and win. Observe the tact there is in these few lines :
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts;
There are many objectionable phrases used by careless speakers. No one can hope to secure the good-will of an opponent by saying : "I disagree with you," "That's just where you're wrong," "You are dreadfully mistaken," "That is absurd," "You're on the wrong track," `Don't tell me that," "You don't know what you're talking about," "That is ridiculous," or "I don't believe it." A tactful man will be more likely to say, "Have you carefully considered so and so?" "I believe some one has said," "There is good authority for the statement," "Many persons think," "You will, perhaps, agree," "Does it not impress you that?" "Should we not give weight to?" "Have you heard the argument of ?'' "How do you account for?" "I may appear stupid, but would you mind making that a little more clear to me?" These and like expressions have an easy conciliatory effect, especially upon a stubborn opponent, and where, for other reasons, it is impossible wholly to win an argument, the speaker leaves at least a favorable impression. Let the student of argument learn as soon as possible that many things which he thinks of are not necessarily things to be said. A thought or word must be withheld at will. He must be quick to recognize unexpected situations, and to adapt himself promptly to new conditions. He will make his points without resorting to unkindness or unfairness. He will not seek to belittle his opponent. He will remember that he is dealing with facts—not with personalities. Positive thought, clearly stated, is what he most needs. If there be any scolding, it will be left to his opponent to indulge in.
There is tactful silence. "Be swift to hear," says an old writer, "but be cautious of your tongue, lest you betray your ignorance, and perhaps offend." Many men do not know when to stop, nor how long to stop. Silence is a powerful aid to persuasive argument. It shows the other man that you are a willing listener, and impresses him with your fair-mindedness. It gives you time to formulate your own reasons, and to compare with them the arguments of others. The habit of judicious silence also saves a man from much idle talking. It has been said of Cardinal Newman that when he spoke he always had something worth while to say, that he said it as no one else could say it, and that, even in ordinary conversation, his supreme loyalty to truth was in-variably evident.
In Proverbs we read : "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." And again : "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
For the gaining of it is better than the gaining of silver, and the profit thereof than, fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and none of the things thou canst desire are to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her."
The tactful man takes a middle course, avoiding obstinate dogmatism on the one side, and a' too ready acquiescence on the other. He avoids even the suspicion of being arbitrary or unyielding. He con-cedes a little and often gains much. He knows that if he grants nothing to the other side, nothing will be granted to him. He expresses himself not too positively, lest he drive his hearer away.
Tact manifests itself in the little things of every-day life. Some persons seem to have been born upside down. They see everything in unnatural and reversed or-der. They have an unfortunate way of always presenting the ugly side of things, and of saying the disagreeable word. Some are so misguided as to think it well to have a reputation for being brutally frank. "You will excuse my candor," they bravely plead, "but I say just what I think."
Tact may be observed in the little every-day affairs of people. "Pardon me, madam, said a woman to another, as she stept up behind her, "but your dress is unfastened at the back."`Well," said she, turning around suddenly, "suppose it is, it's none of your business, is it?" Contrast with this the case of a tactful woman who alighted from a street-car accidentally on another's dress, ripping it at the waist. The offended person frowned ill-naturedly, but the first woman said pleasantly, "Will you please let me help you to pin that V" and the frown was lost in a smiling assent.
Lack of tact is really lack of common sense. It is not tactful to tell long-winded, tiresome, hackneyed stories, nor to speak of the disagreeable and offensive. To joke at the other man's expense may raise a laugh at the time, but may lead to serious after consequences.
The tact of a public speaker should show him how long to speak, when to abridge his remarks, and when in certain circumstances entirely to omit speaking. Who has not been bored to death by the tactless man who rises to speak at a late hour, intent upon giving his speech just as he prepared it, and unwilling to forego even a single paragraph?
A tactful speaker will not begin by telling at great length of things he does not intend to prove, and does not intend to say. He will not announce his subject as being divided into twenty-three or more parts, and each part subdivided into as many others. Proper tact will prompt him to proceed to his subject without unnecessary delay, and to present his ideas and arguments clearly and forcefully.
It is not tactful to plunge heedlessly into a conversation not knowing where one is going to come out. Too many people talk without the slightest consideration for the rights of others. This is particularly noticeable in public places where a single loud voice may make quiet conversation impossible. Tact is taste. Tact knows what to do and how to do it. Tact would rather say nothing than give offense. Tact counsels in time and gives a phrase its proper direction even after it is half-uttered. Tact is always graceful and in face of sudden danger makes haste to conciliate.
When Sidney Smith overtook a man in the street whom he mistook for a friend, and slapped him on the back, the man gave him a look which caused him to say, "I beg your pardon, I thought I knew you-but I'm glad I don't!" It is the Irish-man who can make perfect use of tact.
When asked by two ladies which he thought the older, he answered, "To tell you the truth, you each look younger than the other." "How did you like our Easter music?" a church-member recently asked a visitor. "I thought," was the tactful reply, "that all the members of the choir did their very best."