Strategic Feedbacking: Timing Matters

Written by William Anderson

Written by William Anderson

Feedback is a very important part of the judge community. In many ways, how and when feedback is delivered is every bit as important as its content. There are times when it is productive to provide feedback to a fellow judge, and times when it is suboptimal. Having proper timing can make a tremendous difference in whether your feedback is helpful!


During Observations

Wait until after a judge has completed their task to share your opinions unless there is a significant issue to address.

Don’t jump in when a judge is doing something that requires focus. You don’t want to interrupt the HJ in the middle of announcements to comment on microphone skills. If you do, then you’re hurting the event. Similarly, if a judge is handling a difficult customer service situation, it’s often best to wait until after the ruling is delivered, give the judge some time to process what happened, and then speak to that judge.

If you interrupt someone in the middle of a task, you can disrupt that person’s train of thought and damage both their performance and the event. Commenting during a task can also affect what you may learn by simply observing them all the way through the task!


Judge is Excessively Stressed

People experience stress. Too much stress overwhelms the ability to process new information. When you interact with an individual who is visibly stressed, providing criticism–even if it is constructive–increases that stress.

When a judge is floundering and stressed, you need to calm the situation first. Telling someone what they’re doing wrong rarely calms a situation. Here are things that help:

  • Respect. Provide words of encouragement and acknowledgment.
  • Redirect. Talk with them about a completely unrelated topic or assign a different task if you’re their Team Lead. Be careful not to suggest they’re incapable of their current task.
  • Relieve. Give them a break if you’re their Team Lead or suggest to their Team Lead that they need a break.

People are generally more open to feedback when they feel emotionally comfortable. The judge probably needs some time on their own in order to regain inner calm.  Depending upon the judge’s demeanor, provide feedback at the end of the event or a several days after the event ended.


Significant Negative Feedback

There are some days when it seems a judge can’t do anything right. Every time you watch, that judge messes up. At the end of the day, the judge did a lot of things wrong and did very little well. However, people are only capable of learning a finite amount in a given time.

Moreover, positive statements and kind words are crucial to the efficacy of reviews. If you can’t immediately think of a meaningful strength, seek one out. This may require asking around or working a couple more events with that judge. After you’ve found a couple sincere strengths, your feedback can be delivered effectively. This may take time, but it’s worth it to help the other person.

If someone had a rough day, but is still open to feedback, use the positives and limit yourself to the one or two areas for improvement you think the person is most likely to improve upon going forward. Discuss those, and table the rest for another opportunity. If you take too long hammering on negative points, the other judge may start blocking out what you have to say. If that happens, it’s all downhill from there.

Provide only the feedback you’re confident will help the other person. If there is additional feedback you feel strongly about, pass it along to the judge’s mentor to use as they see fit.


Too Many Cooks

Sometimes you are working with multiple judges and all of you notice a judge doing the same thing. Be mindful that it’s unpleasant to receive the same criticism (constructive or otherwise) repeatedly throughout the day. If you discuss your feedback with other judges and select one person to deliver a single piece of feedback you all recognized, it carries the same meaning without feeling overwhelming.

Use teamwork! It’s super effective.


Feedback from You isn’t Best

If it’s clear someone isn’t willing to receive feedback from you, then you shouldn’t deliver feedback. Providing feedback is like gifting someone a tool: The person must want to wield the tool. If they don’t want the help, nothing you say will change that!

Imagine that somehow, an acrimonious relationship develops between you and another judge. You feel this person isn’t going to accept anything you have to say, but it’s important they learn from their mistakes. This is a tough situation. Remember the goal of feedback is helping someone to improve and achieve their goals. Do not conflate this into ensuring someone knows they did poorly and feels bad. If you have an opportunity to reach out to your Team Lead or Head Judge for help in remedying your mutual grievances, or in diplomatically delivering the feedback to the other judge, you should take it.

If the feedback is important, find someone else to deliver it.  Reach out to a mentor or friend of the other judge. Discuss your feedback with their Team Lead or possibly the Head Judge and ask them to relay the feedback using whichever means and timing they believe will be most productive.

Chances are their mentor will take whatever they believe is fair and usefully discuss it with the judge one item at a time over a period of time. The mentor is particularly useful when you didn’t see good things, but the mentor did. Mentors and friends usually see good things. The friend’s experience will complement your insights to form useful feedback with a high rate of success.


All Good

Sometimes you work with a judge and they’re on top of everything. Naturally, you may hit a blank when it comes time for areas for improvement. Many judges in this situation pause, wrack their minds, and force in some nitpicky detail in reverence of the judge center form. Occasionally, judges decline to write a review or provide feedback entirely. Positive feedback reinforces good behaviour and is useful by itself. Forced negative feedback can blindside others for no discernible gain. If you didn’t see anything truly needing improvement, that’s okay. Instead of abandoning the feedback you do have, deliver it.

In your review, note that you didn’t personally notice areas for improvement. In person, when it comes to the point where you would normally provide critical feedback, you can instead discuss their goals going forward and how you can help them with those goals. In my own reviews, I sometimes tell people they should judge more frequently, and/or judge with me more often. Then, when you see room for improvement at a future event, it’s easier to share because you’ve already established your good intent.


Closing the Loop

The main goal of providing feedback is to help the other person. This means their perception of the feedback is crucial. Receiving feedback needs to be enjoyable and something the recipient wants to do. To this end, ask yourself: Does the other person want this? Will this help the other person? Is this the optimal time? Who is best positioned to deliver this feedback?

Hopefully this article helped you be more aware of delivering feedback strategically for maximum effectiveness. Rather than avoiding the difficult conversation and “ambushing” them with a review, use these strategies to help your fellow judge be aware that you have some items to discuss. Feedback and reviews are about dialogue. Their perspective may shape your feedback and starting a conversation helps you both arrive at a common destination. Considering their mental and emotional status will go a long way because judges are people too. Good luck helping people!