In a perfect world, feedback would would be freely given and freely received. Reviewers would be open and honest about what they had to say, and those being reviewed would open their minds to what others were saying, even if it wasn’t necessarily what they want to hear.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and it’s a lot harder to provide feedback in a way that makes someone want to listen than it is to just write a review. As a reviewer, you need to figure out how to get your reader to buy in.
The most straightforward way to get someone to listen to what you have to say and embrace it is to establish some sort of positive connection with them. Actually work with them in some meaningful way. Tell them about your judge history and your experiences (without bragging). Connect. It’s a lot easier to listen to someone you relate to and respect than it is to listen to a stranger.
Another thing that has been repeated over and over again is the willingness to actually have an open conversation before and after writing and submitting a review. Letting someone know that you have feedback to provide before submitting a review, and listening to them after if they have thoughts on the things you said. It’s not necessary, but it’s a lot harder to be open and in a proper mindset for feedback if you’re not expecting it.
It’s also useful to do your due diligence to try to better understand situations that you might not have full context for. If you see a judge make a questionable decision, rather than just mention it in a review and make suggestions, approach them about it at some point. You can let them know what you saw and how you perceived the situation. It both lets them know how their actions have been perceived and gives them a chance to clarify the situation if there were pieces of the puzzle you didn’t see.
I received a review a few months ago that wasn’t necessarily negative, but it questioned many of my decisions and suggested improvements. In each case, I looked at my decisions and thought about all my conscious reasons for making them. I was upset and confused because it hurt to feel like this person I respected thought I was wrong.
In reality, he didn’t think I was wrong; he just had a different perspective that made complete sense when I talked to him about it afterwards.
Hearing those things may not have changed the way I acted in that moment. But it did make me aware of how other people might perceive my actions. Even if the additional context he provided wouldn’t have changed my actions in that moment, I will consider that context in my future decision-making. Having a more complete view will almost always lead to more informed actions and decisions.
There were two useful steps here: his willingness to listen to what I had to say, and my willingness to interpret the review as his valuable perspective.
As judges providing feedback, we have a tendency to use reviews as a way to distance ourselves from the tough things we have to say. It’s much easier to write out a list of actions and suggestions and submit it as a single static piece than it is to sit down with someone and have a conversation.
From the perspective of the person being reviewed, the opposite is true. A less than positive review looks like a death sentence. It looks like a final judgement of what someone thinks about you as a person, when it’s really just a snapshot of a person’s perception. That perception absolutely matters. The key is finding where their perspective intersects with yours.
When you write a review, your feedback is only as useful as the subject’s willingness to take in that information. It’s worth doing everything you can to get them to buy in and want to listen. And when you read a review, you’ll only get as much out of it as you want to get out of it.
If you read a review and immediately disagree with it, consider why you disagree with it. Is it the way it’s written? Is it who wrote it? Is it that you’re having a bad day and don’t want another bad thing on top of it?
We can all be better about getting our peers to buy in to our feedback. We can also be better about buying in to the feedback we receive.