Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Don’t take “no” personally

CCM Bannder no dates

annoyed-defiant-teen-girl.jpgHave you ever asked a student “Did you like that?” only for them to emphatically say “No”? I have, many times. When I began teaching, I found it frustrating to hear the dreaded two letter word. But I soon realized that when they said no, it wasn’t necessarily because I was doing something wrong, but often because of their own internal struggle with the result or request I was making of them. Michael Neill, author of “Supercoach: 10 Secrets to transform anyone’s life” says when someone responds “no” it usually comes from one of three places:

  • Other people’s fear that you will “make” them hear something they don’t want to hear or do something they don’t want to do.
  • A lack of information or understanding about how what you’re asking will be of benefit to them, either directly or indirectly.
  • A genuine awareness on their part that they don’t want to be, do, or have what you’re requesting.

All three of these reasons are legitimate and it is up to us as teachers to figure out the next step. Now let us look at Neill’s explanations for each of the reasons listed above and how voice teachers can address each situation.

“If their response is coming from fear, you don’t have to take it personally because it’s about their internal state not your external request”

Fear is something most performers are constantly dealing with in their lives. Fear of not being good enough, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of making the wrong choice, the list goes on and on. If you can get the student to open up about their fears, you can develop a strategy to address the obstacles or excuses that are creating a roadblock and move the student towards overcoming their fear and achieving success.

“If it’s coming from a lack of information, it’s still impersonal – it’s up to you whether or not to continue until they have enough information to make an informed decision.” 

A lack of information is one of the easiest situations to address. Maybe the student doesn’t understand why they are hearing their voice one way while you are hearing it another. If that is the case, explain the difference between external and internal hearing to them. Perhaps they do not understand the tonal goal you are pursuing and why that is appropriate for the genre they perform. When that is the case, it can help to spend a lesson watching YouTube videos together and teaching the student to listen at the micro-level. Whatever the case may be, by giving the student information that supports what you are trying to achieve, you can often break down barriers and lead the student to success.

“If they’re saying no because they really don’t want to, that’s still nothing to do with you – it’s simply a statement from them to them about their willingness to trust their own intuition, awareness, and inner knowing.

Some students will say they want to change, but their own fear is preventing them from accepting any external feedback and results in almost constant resistance. This is the hardest situation to address in lessons. I have found that explaining the science behind what I am trying to accomplish can sometimes help the student understand I am not just making things up. However, there are plenty of times that will not work. There are times when I meet students who are resistant to their current teacher and after a lengthy conversation I discover that the teacher doesn’t really understand the genre the student is performing and is offering adjustments that are counterproductive to helping the student achieve their desired tonal goals. If the student continues to be resistant to change after thorough explanations or it becomes clear that their tonal goals do not fit with your teaching style, there is nothing wrong with referring out. It is impossible for any one person to be the perfect teacher for everyone. When you refer out, you build trust in your community. Potential clients and your fellow teachers will see that you are student-centered in your approach and will gladly recommend you to others. In my experience, watching my colleagues who have a referral mindset, the word will spread and you will have more students than you can handle.

Finally, Neill addresses why we sometimes have a visceral reaction to being told “no.” He says that when we make a request we tend to put our self-image and self-esteem on the line along with whatever we are requesting. Our internal monologue is something along the line of:

“Would you please do as I’m requesting and approve of me, affirm me as a human being, ensure I have whatever I need to survive, and let me know I’m worthy of your acceptance.”

This internal dialogue is leading us to rely on someone else’s actions to affirm us and give us a feeling of acceptance and safety. That is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. When we accept that the person on the other side of the piano has their own wants and needs and we are simply there to offer our expertise to guide them on their own journey, it makes it easier to overcome resistance and help our students achieve their own greatness. To read the full explanation’s of this approach to dealing with “no,” read pages 183-187 of “Supercoach.”

Do you have other strategies for dealing with resistance from students? Please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences in the comment section below. If you would like to receive an email each time there is a new post, please enter your email address below to join the mailing list. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on social media. As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful week of teaching. ~ Matt

2 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Don’t take “no” personally

  1. Rachelle Swartzentruber
    December 14, 2017

    Such a great post!! I totally relate, both as a student and as a teacher. I remember being resistant to things my teachers would ask me to do, and this is such a great explanation of some of the whys behind my own and other students’ reticence as well as practical tips on how to get past it. Thanks so much for sharing your incredible wisdom! My Pastor preached about finding mentors and always learning/growing in your calling and profession…even if just by following blogs, watching videos, and other online tools…and I definitely thought of you! Thanks for being an amazing mentor to all of us! You are such a blessing!


    • Matthew Edwards
      December 19, 2017

      Thank you Rachelle! That means a lot, I really appreciate the note. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on December 11, 2017 by in Psychology of teaching.

Ranked the #1 New Release in "Vocal and Singing" on (October 2014), "So You Want To Sing Rock 'N' Roll?" covers voice science, vocal health, technique, style, and how to find your artistic voice in a way that is beneficial to both singers and teachers. Order your copy today!

%d bloggers like this: