TACT is the ability to deal with other people without giving needless offense. It involves knowing how and when to say things. This does not imply a compromising of what is right or a distortion of facts. Tact should not be confused with fear of man.—Prov. 29:25.
The fruitage of the spirit provides the finest foundation for being tactful. Thus, a person who is motivated by love does not want to irritate others; he wants to help them. One who is kind and mild-tempered is gentle in his way of doing things. The person who is peaceable seeks ways to promote good relations with others. Even when people are abrasive in their manner, an individual who is long-suffering remains calm.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
Regardless of how the Bible’s message is presented, however, some people will take offense at it. Because of the wicked heart condition of the majority of first-century Jews, Jesus Christ became to them “a stone of stumbling and a rock-mass of offense.” (1 Pet. 2:7, 8) In connection with his work of Kingdom proclamation, Jesus said: “I came to start a fire on the earth.” (Luke 12:49) And the message of Jehovah’s Kingdom, which includes the need for humans to recognize the sovereignty of their Creator, continues to be the burning issue that confronts mankind. Many people take offense at the message that God’s Kingdom will soon remove the present wicked system of things. Yet, in obedience to God, we keep on preaching. While doing so, however, we keep in mind the Bible’s counsel: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”—Rom. 12:18.
Tactful When Witnessing. There are many circumstances under which we speak to others about our faith. Of course, we do so when in the field ministry, but we also seek appropriate opportunities when with relatives, workmates, and schoolmates. In all these settings, tact is needed.
If we present the Kingdom message in such a manner that others feel we are giving them a lecture, they may resent it. When they have not asked for help and perhaps do not feel the need for it, they may take offense at any implication that they need to be set straight. How can we avoid giving the wrong impression? Learning the art of friendly conversation can help.
Endeavor to begin the conversation by bringing up a subject that is of interest to the other person. If that person is a relative, a coworker, or a schoolmate, you may already know what interests him. Even if you have never met the person before, you might bring up an item that you heard on the news or read in the newspaper. Such subjects usually reflect what is on the minds of many people. When you are working from house to house, be observant. Home decorations, toys in the yard, religious items, and bumper stickers on a car parked in the driveway may provide further indications as to the interests of the householder. When the householder comes to the door, listen as he expresses himself. What he says will either confirm or correct your conclusions about his interests and viewpoint and will provide further indications of what you need to consider in order to give a witness.
As the conversation unfolds, share points from the Bible and Bible-based literature that have a bearing on the subject. But do not dominate the conversation. (Eccl. 3:7) Involve your householder in the discussion if he is willing to share. Be interested in his views and opinions. These may provide the clues you need in order to be tactful.
Before you say things, consider how they will sound to the other person. Proverbs 12:8 commends a “mouth of discretion.” The Hebrew expression used here is associated with such concepts as insight and prudence. Thus, discretion involves cautious reserve in speech as a result of thinking a matter through so as to act wisely. Verse 18 of that same chapter of Proverbs warns against “speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” It is possible to uphold Bible truth without being offensive.
Simply showing discernment in your choice of terms may help you to avoid raising a barrier needlessly. If use of the term “the Bible” raises a mental barrier, you might use an expression such as “holy writings” or “a book that is now published in more than 2,000 languages.” If you do refer to the Bible, you might ask the person his opinion of it and then take his comments into account during the rest of your conversation.
Being tactful often involves determining the right time to say things. (Prov. 25:11) You may not agree with all that the other person says, but there is no need to take issue with every unscriptural view he expresses. Do not try to tell the householder everything at once. Jesus told his disciples: “I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.”—John 16:12.
When possible, sincerely commend those to whom you speak. Even when the householder is argumentative, you may still be able to commend him for holding a certain viewpoint. The apostle Paul did this when speaking to the philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens. Philosophers were “conversing with him controversially.” How could he make his point without giving offense? Earlier he observed the many altars they had made to their gods. Instead of condemning the Athenians for their idolatrous worship, he tactfully commended them for their strong religious feelings. He said: “I behold that in all things you seem to be more given to the fear of the deities than others are.” This approach opened the way for him to present his message concerning the true God. As a result, some became believers.—Acts 17:18, 22, 34.
Do not overreact when objections are raised. Keep calm. View these as opportunities to gain some insight into the person’s thinking. You might thank him for expressing his views. What if he abruptly says: “I have my own religion”? You might in a tactful way ask: “Have you been a religious person all your life?” Then, after he responds, add: “Do you think mankind will ever be united in one religion?” This may open the way for further conversation.
Having a proper view of ourselves can help us to be tactful. We are firmly convinced of the rightness of Jehovah’s ways and the truthfulness of his Word. We speak with conviction regarding these things. But there is no reason for us to be self-righteous. (Eccl. 7:15, 16) We are grateful to know the truth and to enjoy Jehovah’s blessing, but we well know that our having his approval is a result of his undeserved kindness and our faith in Christ, not a result of our own righteousness. (Eph. 2:8, 9) We recognize the need to ‘keep testing whether we are in the faith, to keep proving what we ourselves are.’ (2 Cor. 13:5) So when we speak to people about the need to conform to God’s requirements, we humbly apply the Bible’s counsel to ourselves too. It is not our place to sit in judgment of our fellowman. Jehovah “has committed all the judging to the Son,” and it is before his judgment seat that we must answer for what we do.—John 5:22; 2 Cor. 5:10.
With Family and Fellow Christians. Our use of tact should not be limited to the field ministry. Since tact is an expression of the fruitage of God’s spirit, we should also show tact at home when dealing with family members. Love will move us to show concern for the feelings of others. Queen Esther’s husband was not a worshiper of Jehovah, but she showed respect for him and great discernment when presenting to him matters that involved Jehovah’s servants. (Esther, chaps. 3-8) In some instances, tactfulness in dealing with non-Witness family members may require that we let our conduct, rather than an explanation of our beliefs, recommend the way of the truth to them.—1 Pet. 3:1, 2.
Similarly, the fact that we know members of the congregation well does not mean that we can be blunt or unkind to them. We should not reason that because they are mature, they should be able to take it. Nor should we excuse ourselves by saying: “Well, that is just the way I am.” If we find that the way we express ourselves offends others, we should be determined to change. Our “intense love for one another” should move us to “work what is good . . . toward those related to us in the faith.”—1 Pet. 4:8, 15; Gal. 6:10.
When Speaking to an Audience. Those who speak from the platform also need to be tactful. An audience consists of people from various backgrounds and circumstances. They are at various stages of spiritual development. Some may be at the Kingdom Hall for the first time. Others may be going through a particularly stressful time of which the speaker is unaware. What can help a speaker to avoid offending his audience?
In harmony with the apostle Paul’s counsel to Titus, make it your aim “to speak injuriously of no one, . . . to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.” (Titus 3:2) Avoid imitating the world in its use of terms that downgrade people of another race, language group, or nationality. (Rev. 7:9, 10) Frankly discuss Jehovah’s requirements, and show the wisdom of applying these; but avoid making derogatory remarks about those who are not yet fully walking in Jehovah’s way. Instead, encourage all to discern God’s will and to do what is pleasing to him. Cushion words of counsel with warm and sincere commendation. By the way in which you speak and the tone of your voice, convey the brotherly affection that all of us should have for one another.—1 Thess. 4:1-12; 1 Pet. 3:8.