Being a Good Colleague

[From the Winter 2001 newsletter]

As I write this, the holiday season is in full force, and the overwhelming sentiment is “good will toward men.” Unfortunately, as I write this, I’m also surfing the Net and reading discussion boards regarding my various interests. I’m finding a lot of people who are hostile and insulting, criticizing not just the content of people’s posts, but the people themselves. It’s very disturbing, because the boards I frequent are usually populated by polite people – these are “trolls” that come to stir things up and then leave (usually when they go back to college at the end of break!).

The problem is not limited to online newsgroups. Singers are notorious for gossiping about each other – when I was in grad school, the “Peabody Curse” referred to the phenomenon of someone walking into the room just when you were talking about him/her. (I witnessed this many, many times.)

Gossip is poison. It makes you look jealous, and petty, and will affect your being hired again. Even if the person you’re gossiping with seems “safe,” later on he or she may become friends with the person you’re talking about and he/she will tell that person what you said. And somehow, you will be solely to blame for the gossip, even if you weren’t.

Everyone remembers that grade school report card category, “Plays well with others.” Some of us did well in that area, others needed more work. (My problem was always “talks too much.”) The 1970s era was called the “Me Decade” by writer Tom Wolfe because of pop psychology’s encouragement to individuals to develop their own individuality and take care of their own needs, often at the expense of those around them.

Coach Phil Jackson, formerly of the six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls and five-time champion L.A. Lakers, writes of the strategy he used in building a winning team in his book, Sacred Hoops. Players used to hot-dogging and grandstanding had to “surrender the ME for WE.” It was a hard transition for many of his players, but the results were obvious. This is an excellent book for singers and sports enthusiasts alike.

Baritone Mark Delavan, in an interview with Classical Singer magazine, talked about his attitude adjustment and the subsequent change in his fortunes as a performer. The turning point was someone telling him, “I’m not gonna work with you anymore because you’re an idiot.” Although he was well respected for his vocal abilities, his life habits, which included gossip and a harsh competitive edge, lost him work. Now that he’s cleaned up his act and focused on the process rather than the outcome (which is the focus of Shirlee Emmons’ & Alma Thomas’ book, Power Performance for Singers), he is internationally recognized and sought after.

In Joan Dornemann’s book, Complete Preparation, she says, “Pay attention to basic human behavior and courtesy. Act with consideration for all the people who help you along the way.” Do not “dis” someone just because they’re “only” office staff or backstage crew. They have a voice as to whether or not you will be used again. Today’s secretary may someday be an administrator, today’s pianist is tomorrow’s conductor, today’s stage manager is tomorrow’s director.

These life lessons aren’t just for singers and actors. Substitute the words “accountant” and “programmer” for “pianist” and “stage manager” and “Chief Financial Officer” and “Chief Information Officer” for conductor/director, and you can see how this goes beyond the realm of opera/musical theater.

So don’t be a troll. Practice goodwill toward all. No matter what the season.

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