Considering all the bad messages I’ve collected, the one trait they have in common is lack of tact.
Allow me to define this magical word:
- a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations.
- a keen sense of what is appropriate, tasteful, or aesthetically pleasing; taste; discrimination.
As a precursor to anything else, I need you to demonstrate situational awareness. I need you to show me that you can think from another person’s perspective.
There is an inherent risk in reaching out to someone you don’t know. There’s always a chance you’ll say something wrong. There’s always a chance that they’ll respond in a way that didn’t match your intentions.
But having tact means that you actively make an effort to reduce that risk.
How to do that?
I’d say it’s a safe bet to apply the golden rule, but “treat others how you would like to be treated” could be misinterpreted. I know someone could end up with logic like “Well, I wouldn’t mind if some random person asked me how many times I masturbate in a day, so why is it wrong to ask this girl the same question?”
Being tactful means that you understand how someone else might find your approach inappropriate, even if you wouldn’t. It means that if you want to broach a risky topic, you do so carefully.
I’ll illustrate with my latest example, since it just happened this morning and it’s on my mind. A guy messaged me on my Instagram:
Him: Can I ask you anything I want? And will you answer honestly?
Me: Try it and see.
Him: Last time you played with your pussy? Favorite three body parts to be massaged? Do you enjoy a hand around your neck when you fuck?
Him: Don’t yell at me.
Me: Can I ask you something? Do you think those are appropriate questions?
Him: You can ask me anything you want. And are you serious right now? I specifically asked…
Him: You are beautiful. And sexy as fuck. To me. So I am curious about you. That’s why I asked for “permission” before I asked. No disrespect was intended. And I thought I made that clear beforehand. I guess not.
First, let’s talk about context. This was on my Instagram, which I use solely for sharing and promoting my modeling work. Nothing about this account should indicate that it’s ok to ask me about my sexual preferences. Even if you know me from other places where I speak freely about those topics, it’s still not appropriate to address them in this context. It’s like seeing Jen from Accounting at a play party. You don’t waltz up to Jen at work on Monday and start asking her how much that bullwhip hurt. If you want to talk to Jen about her experience at the party, you wait until after work. Better yet, you wait until the next play party, and you talk to Jen there. Although you have evidence that Jen likes to be whipped, you are running a huge risk by bringing it up at work. There’s a chance that Jen might be perfectly ok with talking about it, but there’s also a chance that she’s not. Being tactful means weighing your odds and taking the approach that is the least likely to make Jen feel awkward.
Next, subject matter. There are certain topics you shouldn’t bring up in unfamiliar company: politics, religion, money, and sex. Now that’s not to say that you can’t ever talk about these things, they are great topics that can make for great discussion. But being tactful means knowing when it’s appropriate to bring these up. Being tactful also means knowing how to bring these up to without offending the other party. In my example above, I found his questions offensive due to their invasive nature. Last time I played with my pussy? Why the fuck do you need to know that? You’re not a doctor asking me when I last ate. There’s no reason for you to have that information. Say I actually answered. “Last night, 11:36pm.” That’s either a meaningless data point or it’s the start of some weird stalker diary. Again we’re talking about risk factor here. You’re a) asking a question that’s weird in its own right, you’re b) a stranger, and you’re c) bringing it up as your first point of conversation. All you’re doing is multiplying your chances of being written off as a creep.
I asked the guy if he thought his questions were appropriate, and he thought they were ok because he asked me for permission first. A very small part of me is thankful that he did ask first, but a much larger part of me thinks that that’s a pathetic excuse. “Can I ask you anything?” That’s so vague it’s pointless. Nothing will stop you from asking a question besides your own judgment. You can always ask whatever you want. Being tactful is knowing whether or not you should.
Tact is a basic part of etiquette. It’s something that should be the norm, but rather it’s become a rarity. I really shouldn’t be impressed when someone shows tact, but given how scarce it is, it’s become a characteristic I keep my eye out for. Tact is sexy, so show me yours.