All of my choral director working life, people have been paying me to hear what’s wrong, and to fix it. So when a coach challenged me to give only positive feedback I was at a complete loss as to what to say. At first, the weaknesses were the only things I could hear.
I’ve now brought this challenge to most of my groups, and to a singing workshop and initially, they’ve all had the same issues as I had with giving feedback on only the positive stuff. Only compliments – not even any inferred comparisons or ‘buts’. Not easy when every one of us has been taught to be critical of every performance we hear.
So here’s an exercise to incorporate positive feedback into a rehearsal.
Ask the Basses (or any other section) to come out in front of the group, and sing a section of one of the repertoire songs. But before they sing, tell the rest of the group that you’ll be asking for only positive feedback and that they should listen for something that they love about the Basses’ singing.
When the Basses have finished, ask the members of the rest of the group what it is that they loved about the Basses’ performance. Sometimes if something I’ve heard (or seen) isn’t mentioned I contribute too.
After about 4 or 5 comments from the group, ask members of the Bass section to repeat the compliments about their singing. The acknowledgement of what was said makes the compliment more real for the recipients.
Now have the Basses sing the section of the song again, and notice the improvement – just from having ‘owned’ a few compliments.
These days I’m experimenting more and more with building on the strengths of the group and paying much less attention to its difficulties, and a miraculous thing is happening. The issues, the ones I used to hear to the exclusion of everything else, improve dramatically when I work primarily with the chorus’ strengths.
And even when specific difficulties do need to be addressed, the more I can couch the change I want as an opportunity, rather than suggesting that the way they’re singing it is a failing, the better the results.