The Tactful skeptic

The Tactful skeptic

“Tack and diplomacy are all about skill and sensitivity in dealing with others, particularity with difficult people and tricky situations. Understanding other people emphasizing with the way they think and fee is essential to effective relationships,” said Olivia Kirtley, president of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) and a director of several public companies.

The director’s role is not an easy one. It’s a job that uses both head and heart. The intelligent director must be skeptical but to be effective, the director must also be tactful. If the goal is to trust but verify, it’s important to accentuate trust, even when trust is well founded. Skepticism does not mean a lack of trust. Rather, it means ‘I trust you, but my responsibilities require me to confirm you and others tell me’, it helps to keep things on a professional level. Your questioning does not mean you have drawn any conclusions.

Below are steps directors can take to maintain effective working relationships even when skepticism is clearly justified.

Set the stage- Establish an environment of honesty and openness, letting management know in advance what the expectations are. Directors should also request the full picture potential full pictures, strengths weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Begin by agreeing-timing can be important for discussions on potentially contentious issues. Rather than starting a meeting with a concern, begin with an issue all parties are likely to agree. It helps in establishing rapport before confronting more challenging matters.

Listen actively- in a conversation, there is a difference between what someone is saying and what they are thinking. It takes careful concentration to recognize and understand any underlying messages. Talk less and listen more, allow the team to say everything they need to say without interruption.

Ask, don’t tell- doubt is less painful when it’s expressed as a question or a hesitation, rather than as a flat statement or demand. Soften questions by including positive messages. Consider “of course, we all assume everything is operating as intended, but how many of us really understand how the internal controls are working?”

Control the heat- “you don’t have to be mean to be tough”

Choose your team, pick your battles, then stand your ground.” Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” Being tactful is just that: having the ability to clearly communicate a message while being sensitive to others.

Softening the Sting: The “Skepticism Sandwich”

Expressing skepticism can lead to hurt feelings or defensive reactions that can harm a working relationship

The “skepticism sandwich” method,

Focus on a positive- Express confidence in management of the area under discussion, for example; state the benefits of the idea.

Clearly express skepticism, but stress the need to trust but verify rather than the reason for doubt

Conclude on a high note; describe positive results that can be taken.

Source: Summit Business Review