the art of good taste

31 Jan

True story:
I was once was asked to explain one of my design projects, in front of my peers, my professor and a guest Architect.  A little later on my professor turned to me, after skimming it carefully – pointed at a specific part of the design that I know he didn’t like, offered a beaming smile and said, “Let’s try and save this for another project.”

There’s nothing more frightening than having your art rejected and ridiculed – but somehow in that moment, my professor was able to diffuse a very distressing and awkward moment for me. Defending my work in this context has definitely prepared me for future presentations and critiques – but it was how my professor conveyed his opinion (in that high-stress environment), that reaffirmed the value of tactfulness.

Exercising sensitivity is definitely an art, but I’ve recently become aware of its ephemeral nature. Are you able to show your ultimate displeasure or show your dismissal of an idea without being blatantly rude? I’ve rediscovered that for some people, tact isn’t necessarily an innate characteristic. Yet we’ve probably all danced on that fine line – that necessary dance between brutal honesty and delicacy.

We’ve been taught to use good Communications practices and to exercise better judgment, in order to build and maintain relationships with colleagues and employers – but unfortunately the “art of being tactful” is one practice that I feel cannot be formally taught in the classroom.

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5 Responses to “the art of good taste”

  1. Jo. Chen February 1, 2008 at '0:39' #

    Tact is something, I think, that can be taught. The basis of tact, I believe, is really compassion or “a sense of emotional imagination” as one professor in my English literature class mentioned in a very interesting lecture while I was at university. I suppose for some, it is difficult to learn tact because of their very nature (e.g., some talk before they think). However, I believe it is possible, even for those who do not by their very nature, know how to exercise tact, to acquire the skill by practice. It’s a lot like learning a new language or even an art (e.g., the martial arts). You have to understand and think about the consequences from point A to B before you act. One you have this motion under control, it will be no time before it becomes an automatic reaction.

  2. Natasha C. February 1, 2008 at '16:57' #

    You can be taught the foundations on how to be tactful. Nevertheless, we all know in society – what you learn isn’t always what is practiced. In a real life situation you can not always rely on your Coles Notes to get by. Sometimes you have to fly at the seat of your pants to obtain the desired result.

  3. staffeen February 1, 2008 at '22:50' #

    Hm, I suppose it’s like teaching someone how to be diplomatic, how do you achieve that?

  4. cbaptiste February 3, 2008 at '3:52' #

    Diplomacy is a desirable trait and when used effectively, the result is magical. I view diplomacy as equivalent to speaking a second language–both involve expressing yourself. Some people are naturally skilled in language development. Others like myself struggle in that department. The same applies for the art of diplomacy. Fortunately, like learning a second language, diplomacy can be achieved by everyone. It takes practice, patience and experience. The more we are faced with the opportunity to exercise tactfulness, the better we will eloquently express our honest opinion.To a certain extent we are all bound by our genetic behaviour maps and by nature I am quite diplomatic if I must say so myself. What do you think? Be honest!

  5. kandice February 6, 2008 at '20:24' #

    Diplomacy and tact mean different things in different cultures. A statement, action, or question that might seen obtrusive, offensive, or overly personal in one cultural context might be considered run-of-the-mill in another. (I’m thinking specifically of my experience in China, and some of the comments I heard and questions I was asked; I considered them somewhat shocking, but was told they were “normal”.) I think these learned codes of “tactful” behaviour are shortcuts that work within a given context (because everyone knows the rules, knows what to expect, knows what the “right” way is), but can’t always be translated to another. It takes effort and awareness to pay attention to someone’s reactions and act diplomatically in the absence of set rules. For some, unfortunately, empathy is too much work. But I agree with the above poster: the result can indeed be magical!

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