The "Tact Filter"


A truly useful article came up on 43 Folders this week: Jeff Bigler's "tact filter" theory. The notion is basically that normal people (hereinafter "normals") apply tact to what they say, so as not to offend; whereas nerds apply tact to what they hear, ex post facto. In practice, this means that normals communicate well with other normals, and nerds with nerds -- but when you mix the two communication styles, nerds become frustrated and normals take offense. Here's a sample from the original article:

When normal people talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they say, and no one's feelings get hurt. When nerds talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they hear, and no one's feelings get hurt. However, when normal people talk to nerds, the nerds often get frustrated because the normal people seem to be dodging the real issues and not saying what they really mean. Worse yet, when nerds talk to normal people, the normal people's feelings often get hurt because the nerds don't apply tact, assuming the normal person will take their blunt statements and apply whatever tact is necessary.

I work with a broad spectrum of nerds and normals on a daily basis. I'm pretty sure I'm on the normal end of the scale, unless I'm talking shop with known nerds in my field. It can be very liberating for me to drop the tact filter and "Go Nerd" on favorite nerd topics like aquaria, computers, office supplies, documentaries, etc. When working in a mixed team of nerds and normals, I often make statements multiple times, once in each style (usually I try "normal" first), and let the listener pick the one that fits. (Yes, this is the kind of high-priced Management Thinking I bring to my work....)

You can read the original article by Jeff Bigler (it's short), then read a nicely-illustrated post on lonelysandwich. If this whole tact thing is news to you, read up on tact or perhaps buy the Tact Magnet.

So, do you fall towards the "nerd" or "normal" end of the spectrum? Do you constantly have to adjust your filter for a particular coworker, or perhaps your spouse? Are these questions totally tactless?