Mix it up Monday: Dale Carnegie’s tips for inspiring change without arousing resentment
It has been nearly twenty years since I first read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” While I admit that the title sounds cheesy, reading it lead to a significant shift in the way I approach situations in my everyday and professional life and the payoff has been significant. I’ve blogged about Carnegie’s thoughts before, this week’s tips come from part four “How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment.” Carnegie’s tips are in bold and my thoughts in italics.
- Begin with praise and honest appreciation – No matter how we say it, the student will always tend to focus on the “negative” instead of the positive. By beginning with praise for what went right, it is more likely that the student will stay positive when you address a fault rather than being discouraged.
- Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly – This tip is a little hard to apply in the voice studio. Obviously we need to offer corrections. However, instead of telling the student what not to do, try rewording your cueing into something positive. For example, instead of saying “don’t retract your tongue on /a/” say “move your tongue forward and up on /a/.” You are asking them to do the same thing, but the suggested delivery will get the student in a growth mindset and keep them from dwelling on what they are doing wrong.
- Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person – We have to be careful not to spend too much time talking about our own performing in lessons, otherwise the student will think we are more interested in ourselves than them. However, it never hurts to say “you are doing great, we all struggle with this, my tongue has always been an issue in my own singing.” This helps them save face, it humanizes you, and it lets them know that everyone has technical problems to overcome.
- Ask questions instead of giving direct orders – I have found this helpful with students who do not like to be told what to do (usually the boys). Instead of telling them exactly what to change on a high note, ask them what they did and what they think may be getting in the way. Then ask them how they could fix it and use their words to lead them to the answer. Not only can this help relax the situation with a headstrong student, it is also a great strategy for moving students from the motor learning to automatic phase.
- Let the other person save face – No one likes being wrong. Anytime we can lessen the blow, the easier it will be for the student to receive the information.
- Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement – Celebrating the little improvements is just as important as celebrating the big moments. I tell my students upfront that I will be celebrating every victory along the way. When they produce the final product I say “that’s the final product.” I tell them that is the ultimate goal, that way they have something to work towards. Yet by celebrating the small victories, they can feel good about the progress they are making on a weekly basis.
- Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to – At the university level, theatre faculty tend to be a little more casual and friendly with their students than music faculty. I have had voice department colleagues question me about this in the past. What I have found is that there is more power in telling the student they are disappointing me because they are not living up to their professional reputation, than there is in reinforcing my position of authority and being “the professor.” This is a very individual choice, but for me I have found making them live up to professional standards works much better than displaying my authority by chastising every shortcoming.
- Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. – To a student, not being able to get rid of the nasality in their voice can seem like the end of the world. I have found that when you use encouragement and minimize the problem (i.e. you just have to learn to raise a tiny little flap in the back and the nasality will disappear) they are more likely to succeed than if I tell them, “well this may take years to perfect.” While that may be true, they will make bigger gains if they keep the focus on the small picture instead of the larger one.
- Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest – This tip is not as easy to translate to our work in the studio, but if the student likes you (and respects you) they are more likely to feel good about trying to get what you want out of them. All of the eight steps above will lead towards this final step.
There’s a fine fine line between being too nice and too hard on your students. But when you find that sweet spot, the payoff is amazing. For me, reading Carnegie’s book was one of the doorways to discovering that sweet spot and I continue to refer to it regularly. Have you read Carnegie’s books? If you have, what are your takeaways? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. If you are not already following the blog, please sign-up on the bottom right-hand side of this page.
As always, thanks for reading! ~ Matt