A Double Dose of Modern Manners

Annie Norcia

Tact is defined as “the ability to avoid giving offense; skill in situations in which other people’s feelings have to be considered.” Such delicacy is hard to master, unless you are a heartless unfortunate who has no concern for other beings; if such is the case, may you be saved from the fate that looms near. An overwhelming number of situations call for social adeptness, so a little goes a long way. Two of the most challenging tactical dilemmas are below:

1. Saying no. When someone asks, “Can I have (your old test/your I.D/your v-card/ your iPod/ your car/your shirt)” and you wish to say no, there is no reason why you may not do so. Accepting and declining requests are contingent upon your personal comfort level. You are in charge of the boundaries which surround you, and for making others aware that they have crossed them.

Always remember your personal wellbeing first; if someone’s request threatens to interfere with this, you should have no qualms about politely declining. If you feel the need to apologize, an “I’m sorry,” is sufficient. Be aware that most people expect a reason. It’s always good to end with a “let’s not make this uncomfortable” closer. So, an apology + a reason + a pleasant close = the perfect no. “I’m sorry; I stopped loaning out my iPod. I constantly use it, even when I don’t expect to. I did see a special on the Apple site, though, if you want an excellent deal.”

2. Tricky questions. “Do I look fat in this?” “How old would you say I am?” “What do you think about her?” and the ever-nosy query “Why aren’t/don’t/didn’t you____?” Pointed questions are dangerous territory and you should always proceed with caution. Use your social radar to determine what response it is you think they want. Why are they asking? What stake do they have in your answer? Weigh this with all of your objectives. What answer can you give them that you feel comfortable with, given the parameters of your relationship?

Should someone ask you for your opinion regarding their dress, try to present your answer in a manner that focuses on their assets. Rather than “You look dead in orange,” try: “My favorite color on you is blue; it brings out your eyes.” Rather than “Wow. You look really fat in that,” try: “I think other pieces would compliment your figure better.” Responding to such queries is generally under the “trusted best friend” job description, so you may not even be asked.

Be cognizant of the risk they take in asking you. People don’t generally request insults, so remember their feelings. The same goes for people expressing sentiments you may not share. Try to place yourself in the shoes of others and give them the same respect you would desire.

If ever asked to judge someone’s age, or another situation where your answer might get you in trouble (Why ever do people ask questions they don’t desire to know the answer to?) politely decline. “I’m really terrible at guessing games. You look great!” “No idea, but not a day over 20!” etc.

People are nosy. If they want to know something you are not comfortable disclosing, don’t! “Why aren’t you drinking?” It’s not really their concern. State the reason if you feel comfortable. Not comfortable? Tell them something else or indicate you’d prefer not to talk about it. “I’m in recovery” works if you desire to share, but so does “I don’t really like to talk about it. It’s not bothering me, though; I’d hate to see it ruin your night.”

If someone desires to get your opinion on a subject and you’d prefer not to give it, exercise your right to say so. Are your companions gossiping and trying to lure you in? Talking poorly about another? Does someone want to know your grade on a test? etc. “She seems nice;” “I think he’s charming;” “I’ve worked very hard;” I did pretty well.” Keep things brief and don’t divulge details. Try to change the topic, mention something you hear they’ve done: find a loophole!

When attempting tact, your comfort level is of the utmost import. Only give answers you feel comfortable with. Remember the person on the other end, too. Everyone has feelings, and if you manage to express yours diplomatically and save theirs from harm, you are a tactical wizard!