The Adult Judge

Posted in NEWS on November 29, 2010

By Wizards of the Coast

During my studies I've come across a Theory known as "Transactional Analysis," which I think can be quite useful to us as a tool. In this article, I'll try to explain it and suggest ways for us to use it in our work as judges.

The Theory

In the late 1950's, a psychiatrist by the name of Eric Berne developed a theory which helps explain how people function and behave. "Transactional Analysis" talks about three different states of mind (known as "ego-states") a person can have: Child, Parent, and Adult. We usually move between the different states all the time.

Child: a state in which people behave, feel, and think similarly to how they did in childhood.

Parent: a state in which people behave, feel, and think in ways based on their parents' (or other authority figures') actions.

Adult: a state in which people behave, feel, and think about the "here and now," with respect and awareness.

To make things a bit more complicated, some say there are two ways in which Child or Parent states can manifest:

Adapted Child: reacts to situations like authority figures taught him.

Free Child: does whatever he wants, acting without inhibitions.

Controlling Parent: acting in a critical way, or manipulating others.

Nurturing Parent: caring, looking after people.

The Adult state isn't divided. While in this ego state, you are directed towards an objective appraisal of reality.

What's that have to do with being a Judge?

During tournaments, you might experience other people behaving in Child-like manners (let's face it, some of them are still children) or even in Parental ways.

An example of (free) Child-state might be the guy who started talking to his friend in the middle of a draft pod, or behaved in an aggressive way just because he felt like it.

Another example of (adapted) Child state might be a player who called you over to help him out with some problem in his match, and is all excited about calling an authority figure, or maybe instead he wines at you for help. An example of (controlling) Parent state is that guy who tried to manipulate his opponent to concede to him, regularly complains at tournaments, or maybe called you over for a ruling and is now arguing with you about your call.

As I've said before, we move between the different ego-states, doing it in response to the thoughts and events we experience. Things that seem unfair might put us in Parent state, making us feel angry or superior. Situations that embarrass us might put us in Child state, making us feel ashamed.

We also change ego-states in response to other people. For example: We see someone littering the tournament floor, switch to Parent-state, and criticize him. In response, that person switches to Child-state and feels ashamed.

What just happened here? When we took on a (controlling) Parent state, we did it in order to address that person's Child state. That person indeed switched to a Child state, and now we're having a Parent to Child conversation as we intended.

This scenario is known as "Complementary Transactions," meaning we both agree to take on the intended roles. It is important to point out that "Complementary" doesn't necessarily mean a positive thing, simply that it's ongoing. Theoretically, as long as we keep on the two ego-states, the conversation can go on forever.

Things might not always turn up this way. Maybe the person we criticized becomes angry and switches to his Parent state. This is called a "Crossed Transactions." Now we're having Parent to Parent conversation, meant at each other's Child states, arguing at each other: "Don't you talk to me like that!" "Who do you think you are!?" How does that sound? That is no way for a judge to behave.

The transactions might stop, leaving you both mad at each other, but there is an even greater risk here–there might be an ego-state shift by the judge in order to create a new complementary transactions, meaning the judge taking on the roll of the Child state and giving in to the other person.

The Adult judge

While the Parent state might seem appropriate for a judge as it offers us a state to be, well, judgmentfull, I would argue that this is not a good state to be in. Even if you manage to have complementary transactions (Parent to Child states), putting someone in a Child state is not something you should be doing, as it might not be comfortable for him.

Instead of the Parent state, as you might have probably guessed from the article's name, the best state for a judge to be in is the Adult state. A Parent-judge might, for example, give a long lecture to a player who committed an infraction (Controlling), or let an infraction slide because that player is new to the game (Nurturing). In contrast, the Adult judge understands that the offense was unintentional (assuming it really was), no long lecture is called for, and that a punishment is required for various reasons.

Does this mean there is no room for deviation? Not necessarily. The IPG allows some deviation, but it should be out of awareness to the nature of the situation, as an Adult.

As an Adult, you are having an Adult-to-Adult conversation (remember, the other side will likely change his ego-state in response to you) where each side is equal, rational, and in the "here and now." You are fair, aware, and the other person can't take advantage of you. You focus on the situation and the problem, not the person, which is the best way to get cooperation.

It doesn't matter how you are approached, your reaction should always be Adult to Adult. Even if the other person doesn't switch his ego-state, you as the Adult can reject his feedback and not go into the kind of complementary transactions he wants you to. Again, this is a rejection which comes from the Adult state, after hearing the other side out and only then deciding not to accept what he had to say—not automatically ignoring him.

Of course being at the Child state as a judge is something you'd want to avoid entirely. There's no way you can be responsible, serious, or otherwise an authority figure in this state. Keep in mind you might also find yourself in that state after a long tournament when you feel exhausted and that you can't go on, switching to a free Child state.

Dangerous games

To make things a bit more complicated (yet again), this is not the end of it. Sometimes it seems we're having an Adult-to-Adult communication on the surface, but in reality what is said isn't what's going on psychologically. For example, a person is saying "I'm going to do it," an Adult thing to say, but he's saying it with some hesitation. Unaware of the Child state hesitation on a conscious level, you might respond by switching to the (nurturing) Parent state and carry on from there.

These "Duplex Transactions" can be tricky to spot, and you might not notice them until the transaction is already over. They are usually done for attention, and/or some other needs the other person has, for example feeling superior (or even inferior), resulting in you switching from Adult-state to the psychological state the other person tried to get you into.

Just remember to always respond as an Adult, and you should be fine.

A few scenarios

During tournaments, judges will encounter all sorts of interactions. Those include Judge-Player, Judge-Judge, and Judge-Team Leader/Head Judge relationships. In order to try and put this theory into practice, here are some situations that might occur. Before we begin however, I must acknowledge that, since most of the meaning of what we say comes not from the actual words, but from the use of tone and body gestures, it's somewhat hard to pass those through written text.

Try to identify the ego-states involved in each of the following situations:

  • A judge notices a player shuffling his deck insufficiently, not quite enough to warrant a penalty. The judge approaches over in order to ask the player to shuffle more carefully next time. Immediately the player starts to contradict everything the judge says, later on even the most obvious facts.

What happened here? Seeing the judge approach and probably thinking he's done something wrong, the player supposed from the start that the judge was about to punish him. He switched into Parent state, hoping that by criticizing and proving the judge wrong, the judge won't punish him.

An Adult reaction is quite effective here: wait for a pause and say "I need you to stop talking and listen to me." Then explain what you saw, and what could happen. Doing a cross transaction with your own Parent state, on the other hand, can end quite badly.

  • After two judges (one of them shadowing the other) finished helping a player and walked away, judge A says: "Man, did you see what he did there? That was one of the worst misplays I've ever seen!" Judge B replies: "You think that's bad? I once saw a guy Shock some creature when his opponent was at 2 life!"

This is Parent-Parent between two judges. They are both being critical about other parties. Notice this is a complementary transaction in which both parties feel good about the conversation, and can go on indefinitely.

Suppose judge B would have answered A: "If you don't change your attitude, you'll get thrown of the event." What happens here?

That would be Parent-Child on B's side. B is being critical towards A now, for what he has said, and A will either take on the Child state, or things might escalate between them. Again, an Adult reaction will be effective here: "I don't think it's right to talk about other people's moves in that manner".

  • Judge A tells his fellow judge B, "Would you like to skip this round and go have a bite with me instead?" B replies, "I'd love to take a break. What should we eat?"

This is Child-Child between two judges. They are being irresponsible regarding the tournament, and want to act in the way they feel like at that moment. Notice again this is a complementary transaction.

  • The Team Leader asks one of the judges on his team, "Are those slips I asked you to cut ready yet?" and the judge replies, "I'm just about to do it".

In this example the TL is in the Parent state, and the judge answers him in an Adult way. There is a risk here however, that by doing a crossed transaction—meaning the judge acting responsibly and not playing their Child role—the conversation might develop into something like the TL saying "I can never trust you to do things!" as he remains in his Parent state, trying to get a Child response from the judge.


Keep in mind that all of the above are merely examples, and shouldn't be taken too literally. "I need you to stop talking and listen to me" can be a Child state expression if you're angry with the other person for not letting you do your job, or a Parent state expression if you're criticizing him for his behavior. The reason I gave it as an Adult state expression was because it deals with the problem and not the person, as far as possible. It's all about the actual meaning rather than the words themselves.

Strengthening your Adult-state

If you want to start practicing what you've read, you can start by thinking about people who regularly make you feel uncomfortable. With those people, you're probably experiencing either the Child or Parent ego-state, and not the Adult one. Think about your relationship with these people, and next time you meet them, try switching to the Adult,state.

When speaking, focus on the issue, not the person or feelings. For example instead of saying, "Carter, you've got a problem with the new IPG and you've got to solve it," (Parent) or, "I don't know how I'm gonna deal with the new IPG. It's just awful," (Child) you can say, "In my opinion there is a problem with the new IPG," and then elaborate where you think the problem is.

There are words and expressions you might want to avoid:

Child: I wish, I don't know, I want, I'm gonna, I don't care, oh no, not again, things never go right for me, worst day of my life, bigger, biggest, best. In general any kind of baby talk, superlatives, or words meant to impress.

Parent : always, never, once and for all. In general everything judgmental, critical, patronizing, posturing.

Here are some Adult words you can use: why, what, how, who, where, when, how much, in what way, true, false, probably, possibly, I think, I realize, I see, I believe, in my opinion. In general, these are comparative expressions and reasoned statements.

Tone is an important part of the way we communicate. Try to notice when someone is emotional, angry, anxious, superior, etc,, by their tone of voice, and try to avoid using such tones yourself.

The same is true regarding other means of non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and posture.

Child: Eyes going all around with no eye contact, frenetic.

Parent: Bent over towards the players, frowning, folded hands.

Adult: Strong eye contact, sitting next to a player (rather than on opposing sides).

I hope you found this information valuable.

If you'd like to learn more on "Transactional Analysis", Google (or better yet, YouTube) it and you should find plenty of information on the subject.

Thanks to Daniel Kitachewsky & Doron Singer for their help with this article.

Written by Zohar Finkel, Level 2, Israel