Why does it seem to be easier for us to say what we don’t like about our voice, than saying what we do like about it? And why does it seem easier for most of us to accept negative feedback or criticism, than to genuinely take in positive feedback?
A while back, I decided to ask all the singers I work with what they especially like, or think is beautiful, about their voice. Most of them could not answer the question. Instead, they started laughing or blushing and became all uncomfortable even thinking about the possibility that they could say something positive about their own voice. They said they had never even thought about it.
I have a confession to make. I used to be like that too. I didn’t even think there existed such a possibility as me having my own positive opinion about my own voice. That would have felt arrogant. I did allow other people to have an opinion about my voice, be it negative or positive. But not myself! …unless it was a negative opinion.
SUFFERING FROM SELECTIVE HEARING
So, I used to think I was being ‘realistic’ if I thought negative things about my own singing. But boy, was it confronting to find out that I was actually a negative listener! I realised I was suffering from selective hearing.
Let me explain. In my case, selective hearing means I had difficulty hearing the positive things being said to me, because my mind decided to only listen to the negative comments.
I found out I was paying lip service to ‘accepting positive feedback’, while actually constantly fishing for negative remarks. And if there were no negative remarks, I’d ASK for one – “for the sake of getting it even better” or “for the sake of my own development”. Can you believe it?! That’s a bit lite asking someone to slap you in the face, just because you’ve heard it ‘helps build character’!
I had to work on some big mindset shifts in order to change this habit.
Nowadays, I can spot this habit in many people that I teach and coach. It breaks my heart. Because I’ve been in that dark place of slapping myself in the face with negative remarks about my own voice. It’s not a pretty place to be, so I wouldn’t want anyone else to be there.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN HEARING
So why do we tend to focus on the negative things then? And with ‘negative’, I mean all the things that fall under the category of ‘in the need of improvement’.
It might have got to do with the nature of many teaching situations: you come to the teacher and show your work, the teacher says “Nice, but…”. Or maybe even forgets to say something positive, and just goes straight to the improvements.
While I find a positive learning environment extremely important, I also do believe the teacher isn’t the only one responsible for this environment. The singer is responsible too: for their own reactions, thoughts – and for their hearing! A teacher can be as encouraging as it gets, but if the student only hears the things that need improvement, and don’t take in any of the positive feedback, all the encouragement has been done in vain.
BECOMING A POSITIVE LISTENER
In their book ‘Power Performance for Singers: Transcending the Barriers‘, Shirlee Emmons and Alma Thomas write about the importance of becoming a positive listener. The ability to hear the positive things that are being said, is an important skill to learn. And I couldn’t agree more.
To me as a singer, becoming a positive listener was one of the biggest shifts I’ve ever had. When I learned to appreciate my own voice, and to take in the positive remarks that others had, it actually became much easier AND fun to work on my voice.
I also learned to leave certain negative remarks for what they were, just remarks or somebody’s opinion. Because let’s face it, everyone has a different opinion. And no matter how brilliant or beautiful you are, there’s gonna be someone out there who has another idea of what brilliant and beautiful should be.
Does “Inclination to hear only the negative things” sound familiar to you? Here are some tips for developing positive listening skills (Emmons & Thomas 1998, p. 105):
- Listen for the positive things that are said to you. No matter how small they seem, they are important to you.
- Set yourself this goal before you go to your lesson or coaching: to listen for and hear the positive things that are said to you.
- Try to practice this skill in all areas of your life […] so that you become accustomed to what it feels like.
- Always acknolwedge any compliments that are paid to you, no matter how small or who has said them. Get used to saying, “Thank you”, without feeling embarrassed. […] Do not fall into the trap of saying, “Thank you, but my — wasn’t very good today.” Take the positive compliment for what it is worth and feel good.
If you’re suffering from selective hearing, like I did, it can be a hard habit to break. It will require some serious training, and thought-stopping. But it’s possible. Do yourself a favor and stop slapping yourself in the face. You deserve so much better.