To have tact is to be able to convey information in such a way that does not condemn, look down upon, oppress, or come across as negative. It is to say things in a positive way, even if what is being said is not very positive.
I.e. = (tactless) “It makes you look fat.” / (tactful) “It isn’t figure flattering.”
In a workshop, you will undoubtedly come across pieces that you don’t like. They may be outside of your comfort genre, or just badly written. I remember when I put forth my first piece into a workshop. I was terrified and excited. It was the first time that anyone besides myself had read something I’d written. It felt as thought I was handing out pages of my diary.
Try to be nice to those in workshop. The author might be losing their workshop virginity.
I’ve read pieces that made me want to paint “BAD” on the first page; but I didn’t. That would have been tactless. Instead, I pointed out what I felt contributed to the piece being bad, and where those details could be fixed.
Instead of saying “the entire piece sucked,” say “this piece could use work,” or “with some revision and polishing you could have a gem on your hands.” Any piece of writing could be a gem after enough revisions. So, it tells the writer that they’re not there yet, but that there is hope.
When I am in a workshop, I tend to focus on plot and character, but also on sentences and style; my word-wizard side comes out and I want to tweak sentences to tighten the story and make the flow better. I realize that not everyone is looking for that sort of feedback, but it’s what I know, and I’m sharing. I also include the note that it’s not my story, and that the writer can write however he/she wants to. I try not to impose my style on others, although I probably do.
And NEVER argue about feedback. It’s stupid, mind-numbing, and nobody leaves happy. Trust me, I’ve tried. No matter how important you think your point is, let it go.
I’ve been on both sides of that arrangement. As a reader, I gave my feedback. The author then proceeded to pick apart each of my points, and inform me how I had been wrong. (Don’t be that author, either. Don’t be a jerk about it.) As a writer, I’ve gotten the feedback enlightening me to each tiny thing that I had done wrong, including but not limited to, having typos (how dare I not proofread), telling and not showing, and whatever else.
Point: give your feedback, and be done with it. Don’t argue about it. Don’t insist that you’re right and they are wrong. It’s creative writing. There’s not a “wrong” way; there’s a better way, proven by experience and sales, but let’s hesitate to call it “wrong.”
Don’t get mad and claim readers don’t understand your style. Reader’s aren’t dumb; they know you’re calling them stupid.