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challenges to 'the engine'


resistance to criticism-free coaching

This article will list the few challenges I've received to my criticism-free approach to coaching, which I refer to as 'the engine'.   It will explain why these challenges are misunderstandings, cultural bias or even potential endorsements of my process.

challenge 1: "it's different, therefore it's wrong"

Most of us are at least a little resistant to change but some personality types show strong bias for tradition and convention over change and innovation.  Even in the face of overwhelming evidence in favour of my process, some highly-intelligent but staunch conventionalists will feel it to be wrong simply because it's different.  People believe what they want to believe. 

It hasn't happened very often, but over 21 years 4 students out of about 4,500 (less than 0.1%) have taken this illogical stance.  Even when the students on the same course around them were all enjoying themselves, progressing more than could be reasonably achieved in the time allowed and were praising the process - even under these circumstances, they rejected my process.

The facts are that the traditional criticism-based approach has failed so many of the students who attend my courses and the results of my criticism-free approach speak for themselves. This essay on criticism and confidence explains the results achieved when criticism is removed.

Obviously there's no substance in the challenge - nonetheless, I try not to unsettle people.  At the start of my weekend classes I explain that I teach best-practice techniques and that I only stray from convention with my coaching process because it is necessary to do so.    

challenge  2: "if you don't tell me what I'm doing wrong, then how will I get better?"

At face value, this may seem a reasonable question but my experience tells me that it holds negative presumptions.  Criticism and the acceptance of it as a 'necessary evil' or even a good thing are so deeply embedded in our culture, that students sometimes struggle to imagine how they might develop without it. 

I am often asked the above question at the start of my weekend courses.  By the time of the final review however, the same people invariably say something on the lines of: "I couldn't see how your process would work, but it certainly does".

By removing criticism and by praising the students' established and emerging strengths - ie the skills they came with and those they developed during coaching - the students not only learn, but develop more quickly that under a critical regime.  This is because they are highly motivated by praise and their confidence (and consequently their performance) hasn't been damaged by criticism.


Dan Evans - voice coach


challenge 3: "your process has been disproved by research published in the Daily Mail"

There have been several articles in the UK press, especially the Daily Mail, on the theme that over-praising children could be harmful.  The article that prompted a few challenges focussed on the work of psychologist Stephen Groz, who claims that praising children with empty compliments may hinder their future performance in school: "Empty praise is as bad as thoughtless criticism — it expresses indifference to the child’s feelings and thoughts." Groz then goes on to say: "The goal, which is very, very hard to do, is to listen to children". 

Although I'm not a child psychologist, I do feel that praise for children needs to be carefully managed.  Imagine the scenario: A young child makes a rough crayon sketch and gives it to their parent.  If the parents says "thank you, I'll put it above my work desk and think of you whenever I look at it" - then that child might grow up feeling loved.  By contrast, if an albeit well-meaning parent says "it's a masterpiece - you're a brilliant artist" - then that child might develop delusions and may have problems with self-expectation and socialising later on.            

On my workshops with adults - I am not raising children - I am often resolving issues of lack of confidence, potentially caused by poor parenting in childhood.  In my process, were students are listened to most attentively, feedback is given according to my rule of 3 S's - it is Supportive, Specific and Sincere.  Sincere feedback means that we don't praise bad practice or poor performance and so we avoid the trap of developing delusional behaviour.      

challenge 4: "I don't have a problem with criticism - I find it helpful"
Most of us are at least a little sensitive to criticism, some of us are extremely so.  To some people the slightest hint of a criticism can evoke defensive or aggressive behaviour.  To others criticism can be so damaging that a single miss-placed comment can mean that they won't sing (for example) for several decades.

Bearing in mind my comment above that acceptance of criticism is deeply embedded in our culture, some people who say they can accept criticism, might not in reality be that comfortable with it.  It's also important to understand the difference between criticism and help.  In general help is solicited and criticism serves the needs of the giver, not the recipient.  Assuming these challenges do indeed refer to criticism, then there are certainly some people who seem unharmed by it and claim to benefit from it. 

Taking the challengers at face-value, I cannot call these people 'normal', as statistically they will be in a minority - but perhaps they are balanced.  The reason they may be balanced could be - and is very likely to be - because they were not overly criticised in childhood, which would indirectly prove my point.  Be that as it may, it certainly doesn't harm these people to experience a criticism-free environment once in a while and, as I explained in my answer to challenge 2, they will develop more quickly without criticism than with it.

As an aside: The ramifications of my process can be profound.  One lady who took this stance reflected in the final review of one of my singing weekends: "I don't have a problem with criticism but I have learned from this weekend that others do - so I will be less critical in the future". 

I conclude that there have been few challenges to my process (the engine) and these are based upon misunderstandings and cultural bias.  The latest engine chart is attached below to show my coaching process as a whole.

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Dan's Engine chart

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