Feedbag #4: Disagreeing Agreeably

image.aspx_1_croppedWelcome to the fourth edition of the Feedbag! Last time, we covered how best to handle delivering critical feedback to a judge who was acutely aware they hadn’t been performing to expectations.

Our question for this month comes to us from Flummoxed-by-Feedback Judge:

I recently received some critical feedback that I simply disagree with. I don’t think the judge who reviewed me accurately perceived the situation. How do I defend my actions without seeming arrogant or overly defensive?

When discussing this issue, I’ll assume that the judge who reviewed you is acting in good faith. If they knew you didn’t agree with their feedback but submitted it without discussing it (or see themselves as the Judge Dredd of feedback), there’s a separate issue to be addressed here, possibly by issuing an Unsporting Conduct – Stallone penalty.

It’s hard to provide specific advice without knowing exactly what situation we’re discussing, but the first thing needed is a perspective shift. You shouldn’t feel like you’re defending yourself, because that sounds like you view the feedback as an attack.

That doesn’t mean you need to agree with the feedback; just recognize that this is most likely a case of good intentions and suboptimal execution. This judge has probably provided feedback to you based on what they believe to be true, a version of events that may not be accurate.

Did the other judge discuss their feedback with you before submitting it? Interactions like this are one of the reasons I strongly encourage people to discuss reviews with their subjects before submitting. It’s not unusual for the reviewer to miss some context that can significantly change the tone or even content of their feedback.

I wouldn’t worry about appearing arrogant or defensive. If everyone has the same goal of creating improvement via feedback, a discussion about that feedback is meant to pursue that goal. If you make well-reasoned counter-arguments, you won’t come across as arrogant as long as you clarify that you respect your reviewer’s time providing feedback.

Of course, things get trickier if you feel like the other judge’s view of the situation isn’t reasonable. It’s one thing if your conversation reveals that incomplete information led to a misinterpretation of the situation. It’s quite another thing if you feel that a serious misevaluation has occurred and that the feedback represents a flaw in the reviewer’s ability to assess. If this is the case, the conversation may be harder to have, but the same suggestions apply. Be respectful. Make sure the other judge understands that you’re not objecting to critical feedback; you’re objecting to inaccurate critical feedback.

A recent GP I worked as a Day 1 team lead provides a useful example from a similar situation. After the event, one of my team members took the time to provide feedback to me. He felt that I wasn’t very present at the start of the day and that I should have spent more time with my team. His willingness to discuss his feedback with me resulted in a profitable conversation.

This team member came on-shift at the same time that I needed to carry out some tasks for the head judge and have my own meeting with other team leads in order to coordinate details for the day. The briefing he received was more of a fast chat in an aisle rather than the sit-down team meeting I was able to do with the judges on earlier shifts. His point is fair, but I could not have done much to change things — I couldn’t be in two places at once. As a result, the feedback as presented wasn’t very applicable in that particular situation. Although he didn’t know what I was doing, there was a valid reason I was gone. However, our discussion led to a valuable takeaway:  in the future, I will provide better updates to my team about my availability.

A final note: The other judge doesn’t have to agree with you. You can have a conversation with them about how you think they misunderstood the situation. They may just say, “I understand your points but still think I had it right the first time.” You could even be the person who doesn’t correctly understand what happened! If you can’t reach consensus, you should still look for useful takeaways from the feedback. In my example above, I can still learn that I should communicate with my team better even if the original feedback is not actionable. Let irrelevant or in-actionable feedback roll off your back like water off a horse-sized duck or off 100 duck-sized horses.

Thanks to Flummoxed-by-Feedback Judge for a great question!

If you’d like to see your question in the next edition of Feedback, using either your own name or the name of a famous Renaissance artist, please contact me via Judge Apps.

2 thoughts on “Feedbag #4: Disagreeing Agreeably

  1. Loved your article this week.

    I’d like to offer an additional thought. While this will likely help ‘Flummoxed-by-Feedback’, other Judges who go through a similar situation should probably first step away from the keyboard. Give things 24-48 hours. Why? Our first response to something we strongly disagree with often contains an abundance of emotion.

    I’m not suggesting in our conversations with our peers that we should be robots. I’m suggesting that when we are told, “You didn’t do this action well,” and we disagree, we tend to incorporate a little (or maybe a lot of) anger in immediate responses. You can be mad – but giving yourself a cool-down period helps to ensure your response balances that with a little more wisdom and patience. In that time, share the review with at least one or two other Judges you not only trust, but you see as people who will tell you candidly if you have done something wrong. They will either help you to see something you missed, or assist you in framing your discussion when you do respond.

    (I’ve been reading every article on this blog – I want to say this is my favorite Judge series currently).

  2. Charles, your comment is great. It’s something I didn’t think of when I was writing the article. Taking a little bit of time to gather your thoughts and distance yourself from the initial shock of the feedback can only be a benefit here. These kinds of discussions can be tricky to have so you want the message to be “here’s why I think this doesn’t apply” and not “here’s how mad I am”.

    It doesn’t even have to be about anger, though — it’s natural to be defensive when presented with critical feedback, and having a conversation after you’ve taken the time to get over that is better than when you’re still trying to justify actions that may have been incorrect.

    Thanks for your readership and the comment!

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