When we discuss feedback in the judge program, usually we talk about coaching (communicating areas for improvement) or evaluation (providing context for how we view the capabilities of others by showing them where we think they rank). We also say asking for feedback, especially ahead of time, is useful in soliciting the type of feedback that you want to receive. This principle applies easily to these two different forms feedback can take.
A third type of feedback to consider is one for which this advice is less actionable. Jonah’s article The Value of Emotional Feedback recently discussed this type of feedback and its value. We call it appreciation, and it is often dismissed as unhelpful or unnecessary for various reasons. It “doesn’t help someone improve” or “doesn’t give people something to act on” or “only serves to inflate people’s egos” etc. This dismissive attitude makes asking for appreciation difficult, because it creates a culture where the act of asking for appreciation can be seen only in a negative context. The asker is perceived as self-serving, self-centered, needy, or weak. No one wants to be seen in those terms, particularly when they have aspirations of leadership where these qualities are seen as a liability for leaders. As a result, we shut down the avenue of asking for appreciation feedback.
Why does this matter? Humans are emotional beings. We possess very real needs outside the context of our continuous drive to improve. Appreciation is one of the tools we use to help lift each other up, to revitalize each other, and to keep the fires of enthusiasm lit with encouragement and support. Events in our lives can cause harm that is invisible to others, but real for us. Over time, these wounds will undermine our ability to function effectively, be it on the floor of an event, working on a project, mentoring another judge, etc. Appreciation counteracts those negative feelings by both highlighting positive aspects and by building and nurturing emotional connections with other judges.
So how can we ask for appreciation when we need it?
Ideally this is where I would go through a sequence of techniques that one can use to accomplish the thing I’m talking about. I want to give some perfect ways to ask for appreciation that destroy any of the perception and cultural issues we as a society have with the practice.The truth of the matter is, I am uncertain if they exist.
Instead, I would like to propose changing our perception in the value of appreciation and challenging that culture. I want to ensure that requests for appreciation are met with open arms and solid, specific statements to show that the feedback we are providing in those moments is genuine. Particularly given the stigma of “asking for compliments”, if someone has gotten to the point of making an obvious request for appreciation, chances are they are in a place where they really need it.
One of the best ways we can improve here is by better recognizing when people might be in need of some appreciation and providing it proactively. People in need of appreciation may seem low energy. They may tell you they are having a rough day, or that they’re just really feeling exhausted. They may express unhappiness over a wrong ruling. They may make jokes at their own expense, perhaps even hinting at the aspects of themselves they feel are unappreciated.
In some of these cases, it is easy for us to dismiss these signals as someone “fishing for compliments” out of a desire for self-inflation, rather than stemming from a deeper emotional need. In this way, we justify to ourselves dismissing and ignoring all such actions, even when our compatriots do need us to give them a boost. I would argue that the personal cost of providing appreciation in these circumstances is quite low versus the possible benefit from doing so. Therefore, the practice of not doing so serves to no one’s benefit, and sometimes to someone’s detriment.
Once you have identified that someone is in need of appreciation, the next thing to do is find something specific that you actually appreciate about them. Even better if you can tie it into the cause of their particular energy drain or distress. For example, in the case of the judge above who was unhappy about delivering an incorrect ruling, you can certainly appreciate that they care deeply about getting these things right, and that this must come from a strong desire to provide a high value experience in their interactions with players. This is a positive thing, and we can celebrate that with them even in their moment of frustration.
Above all else, it is important for this to be specific and genuine to be most effective. Telling someone just that you appreciate them, full stop, is okay. However, it becomes more impactful if you can give them a reason. Your words will invariably ring hollow if you do not mean what you say, even if you are blessed with strong acting skills. The truth has a way of coming out, so don’t make the mistake of saying something you do not mean or you risk undermining all of the benefit you provided.
As a final thought, appreciation is not something we need to wait for an obvious, subtle, or perceived request for in order to deliver. Proactively providing appreciation when we observe an instance where we can helps keeps people healthy and happy. It also helps to foster a culture of positivity; one where we celebrate what we appreciate about each other openly, encouraging each other to do so.