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.