In the last 9 days, I've seen a lot of questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) using "tactfully" in the title. I don't feel like the buzzword adds anything to the question--by definition, shouldn't any question seeking an interpersonal solution be seeking a "tactful" solution?

Many of these titles can be modified by removing the word altogether without losing any meaning.

Should we remove instances of this word where we see it in question titles where it doesn't add anything?

  • 7
    I have noticed a couple questions where the OP stated they didn't mind being rude or aggressive to accomplish their goals. So while I agree they are kind of "buzzword-esque" could it be that the OPs are clarifying that they don't want the rude or aggressive option?
    – user15922
    May 14, 2018 at 22:03
  • @IceC Hmm...that's a case I hadn't thought of. Still, the OED defines tact as "skill or judgement in dealing with men or negotiating difficult or delicate situations." As such I feel that "tactfully" may encompass being rude or aggressive as long as it deals with the problem the way OP wants to.
    – scohe001
    May 14, 2018 at 22:12
  • shouldn't any question seeking an interpersonal solution be seeking a "tactful" solution? Not necessarily. Sometimes you wanna phrase something in the most hurtful and demeaning way possible. Sometimes, you want to phrase it so that you are sure you get the point across, tact not being (as) important. But yes, tactfully is usually the default, so missing any other modifier, I guess it could be omitted. But until that's standard (or close), I'd argue that the titles could lose some meaning on the edit.
    – xDaizu
    May 15, 2018 at 12:17
  • Hey @xDaizu, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems what you're saying is similar to IceC's comment, in which case my last comment still stands that "tactfully" can also mean "hurtful and demeaning" if that's the best (where "best" is defined by OP) way of dealing with the situation.
    – scohe001
    May 15, 2018 at 15:31
  • 1
    @scohe001 I don't think "tactful" is ever likely to mean "hurtful and demeaning" or encompass being rude or aggressive; you've selectively quoted the middle clause of the OED's definition, which is prefaced by "Ready and delicate sense of what is fitting and proper in dealing with others, so as to avoid giving offence, or win good will" (emphasis added) and followed by "the faculty of saying or doing the right thing at the right time." Still, I agree that a more specific description of the OP's intent is often warranted.
    – 1006a
    May 15, 2018 at 16:12
  • @1006a Fair enough. The semicolons to me denote different meanings that are too close to split into different numbers/letters, so I only pulled the meaning I was looking at, but I see your point.
    – scohe001
    May 15, 2018 at 16:17
  • Did you put in one too many tactfullies in your title on purpose? Or am I, a non native english speaker, missing something other than the annoying emphasis of that redundancy to make a point?
    – Imus
    May 28, 2018 at 16:18
  • @Imus you're spot on. It's for the "annoying emphasis" and also a little on-the-nose humor, since either (or both) of my tactfully's can be removed without taking anything from the meaning of my title. (also would've never guessed you were non-native. Your English is really good!)
    – scohe001
    May 28, 2018 at 18:10
  • For cross-referencing purposes, an early iteration of this question: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1298/…
    – Em C
    Jun 3, 2018 at 16:12

2 Answers 2


I think "Tactfully" is a helpful word that can and should be used in some titles.

Using the word tactfully can help a question writer express that their question is not just about doing __, but about doing __ under certain conditions and those conditions are the reason they have been having difficulty and want to ask a question in the first place. Hence "tactfully" can actually provide a lot of insight to a question title.

A lot of your examples were down-voted because of the contents of the question, so lets just focus on the titles:

  1. How can I tactfully interrupt someone over the phone?
  2. How can I tactfully request financial compensation?
  3. How do I tactfully defuse a wrathful person unpacking anger on weaker target?
  4. How can I tactfully refuse to let someone cut in line?
  5. How can I tactfully ask doctors if their equipment have been cleaned?
  6. How can I tactfully on a conflict-avoidance way, inform memorably a group of feminists some of their arguments affect our community because misandry?

If we are able to ignore whether or not the questions themselves are on topic, and just focus on what the word "tactfully" brought to each of these examples, I think it is clear that in each case other than the last, it actually provided plenty of additional insight.

1-5 each had the specific goal of doing something, and by including the word "tactfully" it implies that just doing that something is not the core problem, but doing that something in a certain way. If the question does not outline what they mean by tactfully then I would argue that it is a problem with the question, not the title.

Lets use 1. as an example, in 1. OP does not just want to interrupt someone over the phone, they want to interrupt someone (without causing offence) / (in a way that makes their girlfriend listening in not think they are an asshole) / (in a way that ensures the other person will not interrupt again). You would have to read the question to understand exactly what that underlying goal is, but the point I am making is that by using the word "tactfully" you imply that there is some underlying goal, and you do it in just one word.

The same can be said for the rest of the titles whether or not the questions actually included an explanation for what they wanted to achieve and what they meant by saying "tactfully", except # 6. In this title the goal is already explained (they want to avoid conflict) so including the word tactfully becomes redundant and could be deleted without issue.

Reading through the questions, a lot of them did not explain what they meant by tactfully and that is a problem where we should either prompt the user to include this information, or edit the title to be more true to the actual question. But I do not think we should be policing the word "tactfully" itself. It can be a very efficient and helpful word for titles if used correctly.

  • 5
    Ahh +1 for this beautiful answer. You've hit the nail on the head perfectly. My real issue with the word isn't its use in the title, it's that it's being used as a cure-all as the desired outcome in these questions, I just hadn't thought it through. Thank you!
    – scohe001
    May 15, 2018 at 2:52
  • 1
    I agree that "tactful" is better than nothing in suggesting the OP's intent, but I think it's often not quite descriptive enough. I'd prefer, when possible, to have it replaced by a more specific explanation of the overall goal, along the lines of the plausible interpretations given in your example. It's probably only worth a special edit (not part of a larger edit) when the question is attracting attention/answers that are based on a wrong assumption of which specific nuance of "tactful" is intended, though.
    – 1006a
    May 15, 2018 at 16:20
  • 1
    @1006a Yeah thats right, "tactful"'s usefulness in a title really depends on how many words it is summarising for. Titles are better when short, but if you can be more specific with the same amount of words then its always suggested to do that
    – Jesse
    May 15, 2018 at 22:10

It is a meaningful constraint.

In general, a tactful interaction seeks to avoid offense to the extent feasible, often preferring a delay or compromise over the risk of aggravating the situation.

Other considerations could be time, concern for specific individual(s), professional/legal requirements, social pressures, or other personal responsibilities.

A good answer will address all constraints given the context, or, failing that, at least the constraints explicitly mentioned. If tact is not mentioned explicitly, it may be reasonable to prioritize other considerations.

This constraint should influence the answers.

Questions regarding tact prohibit responses that suggest impolite, aggressive, or uncommon/abnormal behavior--even if those suggestions are eminently more practical.

Tact generally seeks to prevent escalation. Sometimes escalation can guarantee a quick and certain resolution, but that may not be a priority. E.g., a dispute over property lines need not involve a lawyer.

In addition, this type of question opens the poster to the criticism that he or she is doing something rude and should therefore pursue a different goal. Rudeness is fundamentally incompatible with a tactful resolution.

And finally, it also allows users to downvote impolite or inconsiderate responses. These responses are explicitly not helpful when tactful answers have been requested.

Personally, I am inclined to suggest less tactful behavior on occasion or to upvote answers which do--particularly when a more tactful resolution appears unlikely. However, I will not do so if the question specifically asks for tactful advice.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .