In a recent conversation about reviews, a friend gave two reasons why they hadn’t written any recently.
“I don’t have any constructive criticism.”
“I don’t know that I have anything valuable to say.”
These two statements are pervasive within the judge program. They’re also false.
When we’re writing our first few reviews as new judges, we’re usually told we must include constructive criticism. Of course, constructive criticism is important and in our early reviews it can be intimidating to bring up, especially when you yourself are new. Sometimes you won’t have enough experience with somebody to get complex and rich feedback where you can honestly critique their complete approach. But that’s ok – you can still highlight something that they did well, something that you feel that is good for both them and their events. A common bit of feedback, “Do that more” isn’t critical, but it is very actionable.
Even if you’re comfortable with writing a review without constructive criticism, you may think that you don’t really have any valuable feedback. You may feel like, your subject has probably heard your comments before, so saying it again won’t add any value. This hasn’t been true in my experience.
One of the most powerful pieces of feedback I’ve received was,“Your smile is infectious.” At the time, it didn’t really feel like feedback or even related to judging at all. However, I’ve discovered its incredible value.
It made me feel good. While that is nice, it didn’t seem particularly relevant to judging. Furthermore, because I hadn’t thought of smiling as a part of my judge kit before, the feedback let me know that it was taken into consideration. Being friendly and approachable helps ease tensions at rough calls and gives players a better experience when they “dun goofed“. Finally, smiling wasn’t something that I did actively. After it was brought to my attention as a positive trait, I started to use it as a part of my toolkit.
That feedback wasn’t critical, it wasn’t actionable, it was, from an objective perspective, not particularly “good” feedback. But on an emotional and subjective level, it was foundational in developing me as a judge.
Another friend of mine said that one of their most cherished sentences in a review was, “You are the judge I imagine myself to be.” While there was some context that listed particular traits, this singular sentence stuck with my friend.
Giving purely positive feedback can create true emotional value. It may not be something mechanical that we can put into practice like a deck sorting technique, it may not show us something new to do at all, but it can make us feel good. It can make us feel that what we do matters.
A few weeks ago, Eric Dustin Brown highlighted the judge program as a cult of self-improvement in the article celebrating 100 posts But we’re more than that, we’re a cult of improvement. We can help our friends grow, and highlighting our favorite things about them can encourage them to keep on being the great judges they are.
Don’t worry if your review is too short, or that it doesn’t seem to have any paths for direct growth. If you’re invested in your colleague’s success, it’ll show, and that is critical to successful feedback.