How to Relate to Judges

By Laurie Stroupe

Judges are people

Even the ones that come across as self-assured are susceptible to self-doubt. The confident judges can still use some encouragement. And all judges, with perhaps the exception of the total jerk, deserve thanks for their hard work.

While some judges act as if they know it all, they have made a wrong assessment about their knowledge base. No one knows it all. “It” is simply too complex.

Judges Sometimes Make Mistakes

When it comes to talking with judges, you may have something to teach that judge. The way you talk to the judge, though, can make all of the difference in the world.

A few shows back, a judge erroneously disqualified a Holland lop as an ermine. He did what he should have: he checked the standard and talked with another judge. They just both came to the wrong conclusion.

The exhibitor with the rabbit checked around with the other exhibitors and we all agreed that the color was showable. It’s a frosty, listed on page 144 of the Standard of Perfection. We asked the most color-genetics savvy exhibitor among us to talk to the judge – after the show. When he approached the judge, he commented that he believed he was the type of judge who wanted to continue learning, showed him the rabbit, told him it was a showable color, and then backed up his claim with information from the standard.

The judge took the information very well. The exhibitor was very non-threatening. The person who owned the rabbit didn’t make a federal case out of it. It was a very good situation.

Give the Judge a Compliment

Recently, an exhibitor commented that a certain judge seems to do a better job with the Hollands after I complimented him at a show. While that might be coincidental, I do think that people often try to live up to high expectations.

What I said to the judge after the show was very specific and very genuine. You’ve seen me write that advice before. Mention something in particular that you like about a judge’s performance, it will have good impact and can reinforce his or her good judging habits.

Here are some examples of specific compliments that you can give judges:

— I appreciate the way you pose our breed correctly.

— I think it’s great the way you turn your back or avert your eyes when the rabbits are coming to the table; I wish more judges would do that.

— I found the thoroughness of your comments to be very useful.

— Thanks for mentioning why each rabbit was placed higher or lower in the class; it helps me to understand more about the breed.

— You have a good touch with the rabbits and really give them a chance to show off their best.

— Thanks for allowing those ears to  relax before evaluating ear carriage; even though it’s mentioned in our standard, not enough judges do that.

— Thanks for the tips and pointers you throw in as you judge; I learned a lot.

— I appreciate your taking the time to show everyone that unusual DQ.

Sometimes it’s tempting to complain about the quality of judges. We should ask ourselves if we do all we can do to help shape the behavior of judges by reinforcing their positive qualities. We should do our part.

Avoid the Appearance of Influencing the Judge

Remember, however, to be sensitive to when to chat with judges. They are required to avoid even the appearance of bias, so having long discussions before the show is inappropriate. I try to avoid even having conversations with judges that I have more of a friendship with. I want to avoid the appearance of bias.

In reality, I don’t think it would matter, mainly because I’m not going to make a big deal of putting my rabbits on the table, I’m not going to hang over my rabbits, and I’m not going to be intentionally late to the table in order to identify my rabbits. But appearances are important.

Don’t Distract the Judge

Chatting during the judging is not a good idea either. We’ve all been guilty of it I’m sure, especially with a particularly engaging judge.

I remember seeing a judge I know who was evaluating Netherlands. Hollands hadn’t been assigned this judge that day and I hadn’t seen him. I just walked up and said hi, but realized as soon as I did, that he stopped his judging to exchange pleasantries. I got a sign over his shoulder from an exhibitor. The sign was either, “I’ll slit your throat, ” or “Cut the conversation short.” People wanted to get home and I was being insensitive.

I also remember getting reports from a show I did not attend. Several exhibitors were upset because the person who took the majority of the classes (perhaps all of them) had chatted up the judge during the entire show. I suspect that judge would have picked those rabbits anyway, but they had not maintained any type of appearance of neutrality. People who suspected bias or influence were given plenty of support for their suspicion.

I started this post with the statement that judges are people. And I want to end with the same thought. They can have their feelings hurt, feel unappreciated, feel pressured, make mistakes, and exhibit the full range of human behaviors. Remember that we can’t have our hobby without judges. Do your part to encourage good judge behaviors, teach judges (when appropriate), do not engage in even the appearance of bias, and remember that judges are people too.