First off, let me start by making it clear that I don't pretend to be an expert in people management. I have however learned a few skills over the years that I find really useful. I hope they will be of use to you as well.
As a musician you will likely find yourself dealing with a wide range of people in your career: students, parents, contractors, event managers, fellow musicians, conductors, brides, just to name a few. Your interactions with these people and how you handle yourself can make or break relationships.
Notice I said "how you handle YOURSELF?"
That's right, good people management skills start with YOUR behavior, not theirs. You will never have total control over how someone else reacts, but you can absolutely have control over how YOU react.
Here are three rules I try to follow in my interactions with others.
Getting upset while someone else is upset does not solve any problems. Calmly listen to what the person has to say and then calmly state your position. If you feel yourself getting too upset, it ok to say "I need to step away from this for awhile to gather my thoughts and respond to you thoughtfully. Can we set up an appointment to discuss this further?" Chances are you will both have calmed down and the discussion can be productive.
Have confidence in your expectations and state them clearly. If you are not sure of yourself, people notice, and things definitely won't go your way. It's also perfectly appropriate to step away in this case as well. "I hear what you are saying and I need some time to think about it. Let's talk tomorrow after I've been able to put my thoughts together."
Even when you disagree with someone you can do it with kindness. Forcing someone around to your way of thinking is never the answer. Educating them in a kind and meaningful way will go much further and is much more likely to encourage a change in behavior in the future.
Makeups! Every private lesson teacher’s favorite subject. For as many different studios that are out there, there are equal variations of makeup policies. Some teachers are extremely strict, giving no makeups for any reason. Others are very lenient, allowing students to come and go as they please and working with anyone’s schedule.
Clearly, makeup policies are not a one size fits all commodity, so I will not attempt to pretend that one philosophy is better than another. Instead I will share with you some policies that are proven to work and some that don’t. Hopefully you will find the information useful in developing a policy that works for you!
What doesn’t work?
Examples of effective policies
3 Keys to a successful makeup policy.
What works for you? Please share in the comments below.
In my position at Music School Director at CSMA I work with an amazing faculty with a wide range of experience, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Given the schools motto of “Arts 4 All” we also need a wide variety of teachers; from just out of college to very experienced; from the “I can work with anyone” type to the “I only take the most serious students with the most committed families”. We do it all and have it all.
A common thread for everyone, including myself, is the lack of formal experience with business etiquette and customer service. Now, working for a school, our teachers do not have to do a lot of the work they have to do in their home studios (collect payment, scheduling, etc.), but they still have to organize and communicate regularly with their students and families. It can be difficult as a musician who has been trained to have the greatest respect and deference for teachers to work with a student or parent that may not hold music teachers in the same high regard. Because of this you almost have to adopt a “manager” type role when working with your students (clients!). Below are some of the skills I apply to my own studio and that we encourage our teachers at CSMA to use. Hopefully you will find some of it useful!
Remember You’re the professional!
I say this a lot! This means that you are trained professionally and have professional level tools to impart musical knowledge to your students and you deserve the kind of respect that comes with that type of education. This also means that you have to act in a professional manner at all times!!! Be on time, be prepared, communicate in a timely manner and stay calm in all situations. These things mean something!! Never mind the fact that this sets a great example to your students, it’s expected in any job. If you are not reliable, how can you expect your students/families to be reliable?
Set Expectations and Stick to Them
Faculty often come to me for help when there is a difficult student. It could be everything from a student who doesn’t practice to one who has more profound behavioral issues. The best way to handle it is to set expectations and stick to them. This way you can easily expect the same from others (i.e. student, parents). Classroom teachers understand this very well and many classroom teachers have a standard “3 strikes and you're out” policy. This also works for the private lesson studio.
Makeups: This also falls under the “Set Expectations and Stick to Them Category”. You’ll need to decide a make up policy that works for you and stick to it. If at all possible do not make exceptions to your policy. If you do, make sure the student/parent understands that this is an exception and you are granting it because of "xyz" extenuating circumstance. Businesses are strict with their policies in order to create a culture where they treat every client the same. The private lesson teacher should do the same.
In Person: This is always best! You can read someone’s body language and make sure you get an affirmative that they understand what you are saying. We all know this is not always possible so we rely more and more heavily on written communication.
Written: Written communication is great for quick questions, confirmations, etc. It is NOT GREAT for solving problems!! It can very very difficult to discern someone’s tone of voice through written communication. And if that person’s native language is NOT english, then it’s even more difficult. If there is a problem, it is always better to meet and discuss in person. You can then follow up in an email detailing what was discussed.
Don’t ever write an email when you are angry. If you need to get something of your chest write it, put it away, and read it again after you have calmed down. Chances are you will find you wrote something unprofessional!!
NOTE: I am a habitual conflict avoider, and this is one of the most difficult things for me personally. Consequently, I have learned this lesson more than once the hard way. No matter how hard you find it, it is always better to deal with issues in person!! And remember, You’re the professional!