Leveling Up Your Verbal Feedback

Angela AliffAs an educator, I constantly notice educational processes at work in the judge program. When we’re not learning how Spellskite interacts with Kolaghan’s Command or what to do when a player doesn’t discard a card to Tormenting Voice, we’re teaching players about why they receive a Warning for missing their Goblin Guide trigger.

In the realm of the ideal where judges and players alike are completely logical and absolutely confident that what the comprehensive rules literally say is literally true, these educational moments are straightforward. But we all know how often that happens. In actuality, these educational moments are about as clear cut as the interaction between Sylvan Library and Chains of Mephistopheles.

There’s too much going on in a game of Magic for players to approach the rules with perfect knowledge and uniformly logical interpretation. Instead, your typical player might be embarrassed for walking into a combat trick last game, distracted by the sudden realization that the rent is late, salty because their opponent had a Cryptic Command, and hangry after playing seven rounds without eating a meal. And that’s just the player. A judge can just as easily respond to a call with a dozen little distractions fighting for their attention, never mind the intense stress and physical fatigue that often comes with events.

Think about how complicated feedback can be, especially negative feedback, when underlying each conversation is a host of often imperceptible factors.

The infinite potential for unpredictability makes focus and simplification absolutely essential in any communication scenario. So I want to share with you a straightforward three step process* I heard several years ago during a faculty training session. It’s equally usable with players and with other judges as a means of ensuring that your communications are understandable, relevant, and actionable. 

  1. Observation: state clearly the relevant concrete details you observed.
  2. Interpretation: explain what those concrete details mean to you.
  3. Confirmation: ask whether your interpretation of the details is accurate.

Why start with observation? Without articulating what you saw, the remainder of your feedback might feel arbitrary or even like a personal attack. It’s important that this information be concrete and specific.

BAD: You were impatient.
GREAT: You rushed through that missed trigger warning so quickly and abruptly that the players were too stunned to ask for clarification till after you’d left.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork with your observation, the interpretation should explain your thought process in evaluating that observation. At this point, you’re offering an opinion, not making a pronouncement.

BAD: You seem like a rules robot who doesn’t care about the players.
GREAT: Your speed in communicating with the player, as well as your tone of voice, tell me that you weren’t completely focused on the end goal: improving the player experience with clarity, consistency, and kindness.

The confirmation, usually in the form of a question, should immediately follow. This stage is crucial. Your subject may immediately confirm your interpretation, establishing that you’re on the same page as you discuss solutions. But there’s a strong likelihood that you won’t immediately receive confirmation. People don’t always interpret data the same way. You may have missed relevant information. The situation may be more complicated than you realize. Your subject may contribute new data/observations to the conversation that require re-interpretation, in effect restarting the Observation-Interpretation-Confirmation process with increased clarity.

BAD: Good chat. Get better.
GREAT: What do you think? Have I accurately assessed the situation?

In my opinion, what makes this simple O-I-C cycle so fantastic is that it creates the opportunity for all parties to reach common ground. It can prevent the silent or overt rejection of feedback, which sometimes occurs if the subject feels utterly misunderstood or misrepresented. And it demonstrates a willingness to learn from the reviewer, an essential quality to demonstrate when you hope to help another person learn. A little “O-I-C” produces a lot of “Oh, I see!”

Once you’ve established that common ground, you’re ready to discuss the solutions, which are often fairly straightforward once the true hurdles have been identified. And then you’re ready to write a quick summary of your conversation to enter as a review, a record for you and your subject to remember your shared educational experience and a baseline for assessing future growth.

*Interested in the original application of O-I-C? Check out W.I.L.D., an institute that supports colleges and universities with courses and seminars on organizational leadership

One thought on “Leveling Up Your Verbal Feedback

  1. This has been very rewarding to me – as I am learning to better find my judge voice, yet also adapt my inherent gift of gab more succinctly to help aid others. Thank you.

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