Over the years with the List, I’ve had quite a few people call me, wondering why singers behave the way they do. Sometimes these calls are quite entertaining, and I hope that my responses are useful, and my giggling not too loud. But one pattern has popped up on a fairly regular basis, and deserves a little attention. Let’s start with a case study from the past, as it illustrates this issue particularly well. (I’ve changed the names, of course, but please don’t read into the character names, as they were chosen quite arbitrarily.):
Several years ago, one of our Listers called me (let’s call her Gilda) and asked what to do about what she felt was harassment by one of her colleagues. This was not a MeToo issue, but rather an overly aggressive singer who was trying to get more work. Gilda explained that she had posted a call for a church sub on Lauri’s List, received several responses, and filled the job very quickly. (I love these stories, of course.)
The next day, however, she got a call from someone who had subbed for her previously (let’s call her Amelia), demanding an explanation of why she wasn’t called first. As the details of the story were fleshed out, both in that conversation and in the one that I then had with Amelia, it was clear that this was primarily an issue of bridging a communication and personality gap. Amelia, upon seeing the job marked “Filled” on the Board, believed that she was being a savvy business person by calling to get feedback, so she could be more useful in the future. (That was her explanation to me, at least, and while I was a bit skeptical, in this case I truly believed her.) She was still fairly young, and thought that this was standard procedure.
Gilda, however, felt ambushed and interrogated, and swore that she would never hire Amelia again, even though there hadn’t been any particular problem with her performance when she did sing at the church. Gilda did not like being put on the spot.
So, what to do?
On the surface, this a classic “she said, she said”. Both felt completely justified in their actions, and both felt hurt by the situation. I did my best to help smooth it over, and I believe they’ve worked together successfully since then. But at the time, this could have been the end of a fruitful working relationship.
For me, it was a classic scenario driven by the personality conflicts and differences of expectation that happen all the time. Whenever you’re dealing with your colleagues, you have to think about where they are coming from, and try to clarify your own perception of the situation. This may seem like very canned, obvious advice, but it amazes me how often that bridge of communication completely shatters.
Expectations and the importance of self-awareness
Some people, like Amelia, will always see their own need for more gigs as the most important thing. They will do their best to chase every connection, every lead, and will be quite persistent in their efforts to learn more about what they should be doing better, usually because someone has taught them that’s what they’re supposed to do. In this case, as I said, I believe Amelia was truly trying to do a good job. But what she didn’t do, by her own admission, was explain that to Gilda. She demanded answers rather than requesting information. She showed no sensitivity to the fact that she was putting Gilda on the spot in a very uncomfortable way, and didn’t seem very attuned to how she was coming across.
Gilda, on the other hand, could have handled the situation better, and set aside her own inkling to feel offended until she understood what Amelia was really after. This was all rectified later, happily, but it could have been nipped in the bud in the moment if either or both of them had resisted jumping to conclusions.
If you are like Amelia, there is an essential lesson to be learned here. Not everyone is just like you. Most people will not take the chance of offending someone, and would avoid that conversation unless it really felt like good timing. In many ways, Gilda was indeed ambushed, and Amelia should have been more sensitive to how aggressive she was being. She actually told both of us that since she had subbed there successfully once, it was her understanding that she should always get the first right of refusal from then on out. This had never been discussed (and is not the norm at all), but this was her belief, and she was therefore offended that someone else had been hired without Gilda consulting her first. This extremely unrealistic view of how gigging works came close to ending this connection, and made it clear to me that Amelia was going to need some serious coaching on what she should expect from each job in the long term.
But as I said, personality also comes into play in a big way, as there are some people who will always feel entitled to an opportunity or featured status, regardless of the actual situation. This is yet another illustration of how fundamental self-awareness is in our business. If we do not understand our own personalities and the way that we view the world, we have no hope of effectively dealing with people who feel and see things differently. The more you know about yourself, and the more attuned you become to how other people might be different, the more valued you will be as someone who can work with a wide variety of people. You’ll also be far more likely to remain happy in your career.
A few follow-up tips
So what can you do to follow up and learn from gigs not gotten? You don’t have to stay in the dark. You just might want to finesse your Pursuit Of Truth a little bit. Consider these pointers if you decide to investigate after an audition or other opportunity doesn’t gel:
- Timing counts. Calling without warning completely puts the other person on the spot, and is more likely to elicit a negative response. You never know what’s going on at the other end of the line. Your friend could be in the middle of a crisis and completely unable to deal with your request. They also might just need some time to think about it.
- Keep it private. Addressing this issue in public, which has even happened to me, is equally unfair, and will likely affect the opinions of everyone around you when you pounce. This is a tricky conversation that should be handled gingerly, so that both of you can take it seriously and find your way into honest communication.
- Give them some space. Consider sending an email rather than using phone, text, or other communications channels that are designed for an immediate response. Email’s looser format will give you a better chance to explain (briefly!) what you’re after, and will give them room to consider their response before replying. It also goes a long way to showing respect and seriousness of purpose.
- Request an appointment. If this would seem more comfortable over the phone, or if you would not want to create a “paper trail” (yes, sometimes this is legitimate!), you can use an email to request a phone call at their convenience. They might not agree to it, but some will, and you might get a chance to have a really valuable chat that can build your relationship, rather than damaging it.
- Give them an out. Always make it clear that you understand if they don’t want to get into this. And then, if they don’t want to participate in this follow-up, try very hard to actually understand. Some people don’t work this way, and you cannot force them to without alienation. Remember that the working relationship is far more important than your knowing every detail of their hiring decisions.
- Keep emotion out of it. Hopefully this will happen on both sides, but since you’re the one initiating the conversation, all you can do is control your own approach. Keep your questions based on facts. Don’t push for specifics. And let them decide how they’re going to respond. If you find yourself facing discomfort, anger, frustration, or other negative emotions, take those as part of the risk that comes with this process.
- If their response is negative, thank your colleague for their time and seriously consider the meat of what they said later, when you can parse out the facts away from the heat of battle. As we said above, you don’t know what might be causing the negative emotions. Try to figure out where you could have done better, and make a plan to work on that. The rest is not your responsibility.
- Remember “INAY”: even for what might seem like a simple gig, there are many legitimate factors to consider when choosing a person for a particular job or slot or whatever. The performance world does not, and cannot, hire the same way the rest of the world does. A religious organization, for instance, does have the right to limit their candidates to members of their faith. There are many reasons for this, and it is completely legal. There may be logistical issues at hand, in terms of geography, scheduling, costuming, or any number of other issues. The bottom line is this: there will always be circumstances that you don’t know about, and you don’t have a right to demand that knowledge. Some things in life are meant to remain a mystery. Repeat to yourself, “it’s not about you, it’s not about you, it’s not about you…” as a reminder that you 1) need not worry about every little thing, and 2) that you shouldn’t demand that the world revolve around your feelings. (That’s just exhausting, isn’t it?)
- Follow up the follow-up. Once you’ve spoken about the situation and gotten your feedback, send a handwritten note or personal email later, at least a week after the chat, and after you’ve given their notes some heavy thought. Thank them for their time and let them know that they’ve been heard. This one step can go a long way to continuing a good relationship or mending a damaged one. Be genuine, be brief, and mean what you say.
What if I don’t agree with what they tell me?
Assuming you’re not sticking to your own snap judgment or being stubborn about your own fabulous perspective, this happens. Sometimes you’ll get feedback that doesn’t apply. Sometimes they may have completely misunderstood what was happening. If that’s genuinely the case, it’s the biggest signal that this just wasn’t a good fit. Consider their notes and take them seriously, then discard them. Consider your own efforts to learn from the situation your best reward. After all, not everyone has something useful to say. (And if you can remember that about yourself, you’ll be even further ahead of the pack!)
Unfortunately, life is sometimes harsh, and we don’t get what we deserve. But we can control our behavior, which is the primary thing that shows us to be professional in our work. You’ve all heard stories of fantastically talented people who no one wants to work with because they’re so difficult.
Don’t be that.
Be more sensitive, more of a team player, and more willing to learn from the information available. Accepting negative feedback and praise with equal aplomb is a skill that is well worth nurturing, and will help you grow in every direction. If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, you’re clearly taking yourself and your work seriously. That’s a great start. Go get ’em.