Critical Feedback

Joe Wiesenberg

Joe Wiesenberg

One of the most valuable aspects of review-writing is the opportunity it offers the writer to provide constructive feedback to the subject. It might even be the best thing about them — it’s great to hear how you rocked an event, but one of the fastest ways to improve is by getting feedback from someone with a different perspective.

Offering feedback of this quality can be challenging. Many judges struggle with conveying what they have to say in a way that will be received by their review subject. I’ll be discussing some tactics to help add weight to your feedback.

1) Have a conversation about it with your subject before delivering it. This is important! Your feedback shouldn’t come as a surprise to your subject, especially if it’s very critical. Your feedback should be collaborative, not an ambush. Keep in mind that you might not always have the context surrounding the actions you’re reviewing — asking, “Why did you do this?” can help. You might find that your feedback shifts from focusing on the actions to focusing on the decisions behind them.
2) Don’t slow roll your feedback. What you have to say is important. Don’t mitigate its effectiveness by saying anything less than what you mean. Don’t be a jerk, but also don’t be afraid that you’ll be perceived as one — on the whole the judge program is full of well-meaning people who are interested in improving themselves, and you can usually rely on your fellow well-meaning self-improvers to understand that what you have to say is coming from a good place.
3) Be specific. What you have to say will be much more effective if you can focus on specific examples to highlight how they can be improved.
4) Offer actionable suggestions for improvement. It’s not enough to say “You need to improve this”; that just feels like criticism with no value. Provide your subject with specific things he or she can try to do better next time.

As an example, I recently received a review which contained this in the areas for improvement: “Ask for time off your feet when you need it. Judging is hard work, and sometimes 15 minutes to sit down and breathe can make the difference between an average shift and an above-average shift.”

I appreciated getting the review, but found this feedback to be of limited use — was I not taking breaks? I’m pretty sure I rested up when I needed to during that event. Did I look overworked? I’m not sure; that event wasn’t too taxing.

Let’s take another pass through it, creating a new hypothetical review by implementing some of my suggestions above (no judges were harmed in the writing of this hypothetical review):
1) Say what you mean. “You looked very tired and overworked, and that affected your performance. Normally you’re on top of things, but you let things slip during this event and it was obvious.”
2) Be specific: “There were a few rounds where you forgot to announce the start of the round after you put pairings up for your event, and there was also a round where a player asked to talk with you about something and you completely forgot to check back in with him.”
3) Offer actionable suggestions: “If you’re so tired that you’re letting common tasks slip, you shouldn’t feel bad about addressing it. You had a floor judge with you for your event, so you could have asked him to take over as head judge for 15 minutes each round just to give you a chance to relax. You also could have talked with the sides lead to get your break sooner; you clearly needed it and you have to consider not only your performance that day, but the next one as well.”

Now this feedback has gone from being a generic note on the importance of breaks to specifically addressing what behaviors needed improvement as a result of poor energy management as well as tactics to address it in the future.

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