The Value of Timely Reinforcements

reinforcementsJUDGE! Your nerves might be frayed from higher-than-expected turnout and a late…shift the night before, but this call is yours.

“Can I Misdirection my opponent’s Cruel Ultimatum?”

You stare at the cards before you. Across the table, the player’s opponent sits looking up at you, his eyes pleading for you to give the technically correct answer without giving away the futility of the play.

It’s been a long day, and you decide on a simple-but-not-overly-simple-yet-also-not-too-leading, “Yes, Cruel Ultimatum is a legal target for Misdirection.”

“Great! Thanks!” he says as you turn to shuffle down the aisle, clearly not understanding your nuance. Well, you tried. He makes the play without a moment’s hesitation. Six very confusing seconds later, you find yourself back at the same table answering a much more difficult call. It’s from the same player, but now he’s transformed. He might have been having a rough day even before you gave him your completely technically correct answer to the question, but now he’s fully tilted. What do you do?

It’s easy to stumble into a conflict when answering a call, but your true character is demonstrated in how you approach and resolve that conflict when you’re faced with it.

One of the first pieces of advice I give most judges who find themselves in the midst of a conflict or stressful situation (right after “Don’t panic.”) is simple: Get backup. Find another judge (or a similar authority figure like the event organizer or, at Regular REL, maybe just a trusted friend) to back you up. This serves many different purposes:

  • Two sets of eyes are better than one. This means more observations made, more information gathered, better questions asked, and better decisions made.
  • Your perspective naturally changes, even if only slightly. And that’s OK. We call this actor-observer bias. If you’re engaging a conflict, there is a reflexive element at work. You’re observing the interaction and intervening in it, but you’re also affected by it. An additional perspective improves the likelihood that the outcome will have an objective basis. You may find your own behavior and attitude improves if you know you’re being observed, too.
  • The introduction of an arbiter gives both you and your combatant a little bit of time and physical space. Sometimes that’s all you need in order to defuse a situation.
  • By acknowledging your personal awareness of the conflict and your role in it, you help validate the “other side” in the conflict without necessarily accommodating their goals. This is useful when you’re feeling an emotional reaction, or if you’ve created an emotional reaction in a player. Calling in backup gives you both a chance to acknowledge those emotions and de-escalate, but it doesn’t mean anyone’s “won” the argument.

There’s absolutely no shame in asking for help. The acts of asking for and providing backup are opportunities. In you’re asking for help, you’re (1) ensuring the players are getting the best experience the judges can deliver, (2) maintaining your own professionalism and possibly learning something new, and (3) giving the judge who responds a chance to improve his or her own craft by mentoring you.

Once you have your backup, what do they do? What do you do differently? Hopefully the first judge did all of these things, but if he or she did, the call for reinforcements probably wouldn’t have happened. The backup judge provides us a second opportunity to get it right.

1. Reset the tone.

This new judge should be able to restart a stalled conversation by first asking the judge in need and then any affected players a simple, obvious question: “How can I help?” The new presence creates a need for everyone engaged to (briefly) restate the problem, and sometimes that’s enough to identify where things went wrong. Even if it doesn’t solve the issue right away, it breaks the tension and shifts the focus from the people engaged to the problem at hand.

2. Observe and listen.

A backup judge can’t mediate without a clear understanding of what’s going on. Situational awareness is key: format, round number, table number, time left on the clock, player names from the match slip, earlier judge calls, notes players have taken, board state. Any of these things can be the key to figuring out why things have gone wrong, and the first judge on the scene can provide a great deal of context for the backup judge.

As with any conflict resolution, active listening is important. I might end up putting this in every single article I write, but it’s that important:

  • Use nonverbal communication to express your engagement while they’re talking.
  • When you’re asking a question, restate the other person’s position to make it clear you heard them.
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact, use nonthreatening gestures.
  • Ask direct, focused, and relevant questions.
  • Read the emotional state of the people in the conflict and reflect your understanding.

3. Have a plan.

Figure out why things went wrong. Identify what needs to change to get the event back on track. This can be as simple as answering a question correctly or as complex as sending a player or judge home. Once you understand your objective and role, execute it. Both judges can do this together, but be clear on who’s taking the lead.

4. Be a collaborative problem solver.

Absent other instruction, the backup judge should act as an equal to the first responder, and should be treated as such. If they’re perceived or treated as the first responder’s subordinate, the backup won’t have the credibility they need to moderate the situation.

A backup judge who is perceived or treated as the first responder’s superior will be expected to own the conflict instead, like a de facto appeal. If the backup is the Head Judge or someone capable of taking an appeal, that perception is fine, but it should be made clear to the player what’s happening.

If the situation has escalated to Unsporting Conduct, it’s most natural for the backup judge to reset the tone and take the lead. If the delivery of the penalty the player has earned is perceived as vindictive or an overreach on the part of the first responder, it’s probably just going make things worse. The intervention of the backup judge at this point is crucial.

In any case, communicate clearly with your backup. Don’t assume they’ve read your mind and figured out which role you need them to take on. If you’re the backup, communicate before jumping in and taking the reins.

5. Avoid these basic pitfalls:

Don’t cluster on a call. One Judge for backup is fine, two is even OK if you’re taking players away from the table or dealing with something especially severe. If you see a group of Judges gravitating to the match, consciously take a step back and focus on the rest of the event. If all the judges are distracted by the argument, who’s serving the other players? The Head Judge will re-cap all the most interesting stuff at the end of the day or you can talk to the judge who took the call later.

Don’t condescend. Arrogance on the part of a Judge can stop an effective resolution in its tracks. You’re being asked to help. The judge or player asking for help has a degree of vulnerability, and it’s incumbent on you to respect that.

Don’t gloss over appeals. Not all appeals use the phrase, “I’d like to appeal.” Players ask clarifying questions all the time without appealing, but once a player expresses confusion or disagreement with your ruling beyond, “Are you sure? I don’t get it…”, confirm that it sounds like an appeal, and get thee to the Head Judge.

Don’t abdicate your authority without letting your backup know. Until you make it abundantly clear that you’re stepping aside and letting the other Judge take the reins, you’re still responsible for the call at hand. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

So, there you have it. I’ve been kicking around this article in draft form for a bit, but Kevin Desprez’s article on team leading and collaboration here has inspired me to finish it. This hasn’t been nearly the broad ranging, sage advice of Kevin’s (I can’t help but read his work with a French accent in my head, which also makes it sound wiser somehow), but I hope it comes to your aid the next time you’re reinforcing a colleague on a tough call.

– Sean

P.S.: Thanks to Bryan “mossymossymossy” Prillaman for edits and consultation! (You can also blame him for inspiring the card links.)

This entry was posted in Conflict Resolution, Public Image, Tournament Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Value of Timely Reinforcements

  1. Riki Hayashi says:

    The card tags for this article were very distracting, and I’ve temporarily suspended reading to write this comment. I’m not sure if these tags were auto-applied to related words, or you intentionally put all of these, but it’s quite over the top and distracts from reading the content of the blog.

  2. Leo says:

    These links are Easter eggs of entertainment. Thanks for that Sean. Kevin and I appreciated sentiment a LOT.

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