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What I learned about giving feedback as a pageant judge

business communication Jul 01, 2023

The assignment seemed easy and fun when I was asked to be part of a panel of judges for the Miss Washington pageant in 2021.

Then I sat through my first judges’ meeting. About 10 minutes in I started to wonder if I was in over my head and I knew I needed to get better at giving feedback.

It took me a little bit to warm up to the idea of giving feedback to young women who worked so hard to be there. I wanted to encourage everyone and be the “nice judge.” But that’s not how it works. The participants expected feedback and they wanted it. The process wasn’t just about winning it was getting feedback so they could show up with more confidence and be more impactful in their careers and community work.

Being the “nice judge” wasn’t going to help them reach their goals. Giving everyone the same grade was only going to ruin the process.

Here’s the No. 1 rule when judging: Use the full range of numbers.

Scores are based on a scale of 1-10 that get averaged across the panel of judges. Accurate feedback requires using the top end and the low end of the scale. It doesn’t mean you give a 1 or a 10 but giving every contestant a 7 doesn’t work. Not everyone deserves a 7. You don’t do anyone any favors by assigning the same score across the board and you end up removing yourself from the outcome because of the way the scores are averaged.

You might not like the idea of a pageant. I want you to set those feelings aside because there is a bigger business lesson in this example. When you give feedback in any situation, use the full range of numbers. Or perhaps it’s more helpful to think in terms words. Not every effort is great. Not every person did excellent work on a project. 

As I’ve previously pointed out coaches, managers and athletes are skilled at giving accurate feedback. In order to do the same thing with your team you need to use the full range of words at your disposal. The English language is full of words we never use because we default to the same ones over and over again.

When you choose words that accurately describe a situation, emotion, outcome or effort you’re maximizing the full range of feedback options, just like using the full scale of 1-10.


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