Earlier this week, I needed to reach out to one of my mentors to check in on some overdue feedback. I should have done it over a week ago, but I hadn’t. I was worried that I was wasting their time, that they didn’t want to talk to me, and that I shouldn’t expect a response. I finally mustered up the courage to type “Hey friend! Do you have a minute to chat about [The Thing]?”
They responded quickly, and we went on to have a meaningful and productive conversation. All that kept me from getting there sooner was my anxiety over the approach.
Over the past few months at Planar Bridge meetings, we’ve discussed some of the challenges judges face in approaching program leadership. Many of those conversations have focused on L3s, but the issue is not limited by level. I’ve been on both sides of this approachability chasm: being uncomfortable and uncertain when approaching leaders and mentors in the community, and being viewed as intimidating to judges who were seeking feedback.
When I talk about Approachability, I mean how comfortable others are with seeking out and talking to a particular judge, specifically in a professional context. For example: how comfortable you would be approaching an L3 for a rewind, a Head Judge for an appeal, or trying to find opportunities to advance, like being comfortable asking for feedback or asking to work with someone on a project. It is important to remember that leaders aren’t expected to devote all of their spare time to the development of other judges. While growing and reinforcing the community is an element of the role, judging is a volunteer position, and the answers of “No,” “Not right now,” or “How about [other person]?” are all acceptable.
So where does this issue originate? I believe that it is a convergence of the personalities of both members of the interaction, the circumstances of the situation and, most critically, the social structure created by the judge program. Often judges who end up in leadership positions tend towards more assertive, charismatic or outspoken personalities. These individuals can feel intimidating, especially to quieter people. On top of that, a lower level judge may be required to get feedback in order to progress, which adds a layer of pressure. Compounding with both of these, judges in leadership positions need to work together and often become friends. Even when working professionally, these groups can be difficult to approach, because it can feel like you’re infringing on somebody’s social circumstances.
This concern means that some judges hesitate to interrupt a conversation when they need an answer to alleviate an issue during an event. It can also mean that a judge doesn’t request feedback that would make the difference between an acceptable performance and an exceptional one.
By recognizing that solving this issue isn’t wholly on the shoulders of any individual or even any subset of the community, each of us can take a small part in helping improve communication within the program.
Anxiety regarding approaching other judges isn’t a challenge that all judges face regularly. Due to personality, life or professional experiences, or the fact that they have already learned this skill, some judges are comfortable going up to anyone and speaking their mind. Nonetheless, I have found that these worries still exist within many judges. While they are particularly prevalent in those who have less experience, there also exist those judges who are deeply invested in the program who still feel this anxiety.
Techniques exist that a judge can use to become more comfortable approaching those who intimidate us, as well as ways a judge can present themselves so that others are more at ease approaching them. In part two I will share some of these methods that I’ve found useful, as someone who ends up on both sides of the line.
In all interactions, remember that judges are people. Sometimes they’re outgoing, sometimes they’re reserved. Some judges love the spotlight and others avoid it habitually. But every judge has committed time and effort to Magic and to the judging community. The leaders are deeply invested and care about the game and program, and they won’t bite.