How to Sell a Ruling

Posted in NEWS on July 6, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

While looking for a real job, I think many people have taken on weird jobs. I worked as a door to door salesman for about a year. At first it started out being just for the money, but I discovered that it was something very useful for my general life as well.

Many people take management courses or have sessions working on their self-confidence. Working in direct sales, like I did, helped a lot in both those areas. The best thing about it was that I was able to use my judging experience to be better at it (and because we got paid for each sale, I earned more, which was another benefit) and become a better judge by using the simple systems they were working with. There are basically two main systems they were using:

  • The 5 steps (How to Sell a Ruling)
  • The 8 steps (How to Get Through a Day of Judging)

I understand that this discussion is very theoretical and the best thing to improve on this is, like with most things, practice. Remind yourself of the steps during the day a couple of times and try and start thinking about them while you do them.
This article will focus on the 5 steps. The follow-up article will deal with the 8 steps.

The 5 steps

This system details the process of a conversation, more specifically an official conversation. This can be applied when making a ruling. These are the 5 steps:

  1. Introduction
  2. Short Story
  3. Presentation
  4. Close
  5. Rehash

Step 1: Introduction

It may sound very weird, but the moment you have said the first sentence ("Hello, how are you?" or a simple "Hi"), the introduction ends. This makes many believe there is nothing to this step, but it's not so simple. The introduction is mainly about nonverbal communication and it starts the moment your future "customer" spots you. The introduction consists of three important parts: Body Language, Eye Contact and Tone of Voice. I'll explain each of these separately.

Body Language

The most important thing about the introduction is your body language. If it shows that your are comfortable in what you are doing and can do it with confidence and flair, people are going to enjoy being serviced by you.
When you are called over to a table, the players at that table might have already seen you walking on the floor, so your body language will influence there initial reaction to you at the table. Actually, this goes beyond the scope of the introduction when making a ruling, but should be applied whenever you're on the floor. It is probably a good thing to work on in your general life because this can be translated to every conversation you have. For tournaments though, it will help with the acceptance of a ruling and the way the players will talk to you. The more comfortable the players feel in your presence, the easier it will be to get all the information you need to make the correct ruling.

Eye Contact

Eye contact should be the start of interaction between people. Keeping that eye contact after the first words are spoken creates trust. It is not so much what eye contact does, but what not having eye contact in the interaction results in. If you never look people in the eye, it comes across as if you have something to hide. If you are nervously looking around you, people may think you are uncomfortable and unsure about yourself. These things will not help you when you are making a ruling. Players will be less likely to except a ruling when they are not sure about the judge making it.

Tone of Voice

The introduction ends after the first sentence; however, how you say that sentence is very important and will greatly impact the way you will be viewed by your customer. A monotone will sound disinterested and give the impression you don't care about what you are saying or doing. Using your tone of voice wrongly may even send a different message across then you intend. Once again, it is all about confidence and you can use your tone of voice to sound confident when you start the conversation, which will improve the players trust in you.

Step 2: Short Story

Moving from the introduction to the short story has no real transition. In direct sales, this is the time where you explain why you are speaking to them. During this time, you start giving impulses to the people and qualifying them. You give them the impulses to make them more interested in the product, increasing the chance of them wanting to listen to what you have to offer. Qualifying is actually more important, because you need to know as quickly as possible if you are dealing with a potential customer. If you waste a lot of time on people who are not buying anything, you will speak to fewer people during your day. Speaking to fewer people gives you fewer opportunities for success.

How to apply all this to judging?


You start qualifying during the introduction, but it is mainly done during the short story. After your introduction you often start your short story with, "How can I help you?" The reaction to this question will enable you to start your assessment of the situation by looking at the reaction of the players and their behavior to each other. The game state often reveals part of the problem, so always try and see what's going on in the game as soon as possible.


The impulses you're giving the players are to help them more easily accept the ruling. This part is very different from the way it works in direct sales: there you need to make the people you are talking interested in actually listing to you. In judging they called you over to the table and you are an authority. Therefore, they will to listen to you. However, your body language and tone of voice make sure you get more attention and they accept your ruling easier.

Step 3: Presentation

The presentation in direct sales is the point where you explain to an interested customer what the "deal" is. For judging, this is where you do your investigation and make sure you fully understand the situation. When it's a simple rules question one of the players doesn't understand, this step can be as short as a couple of seconds. In a complicated case, where you are debating disqualifying a player, this can take (a lot) longer. Before going to the next step, it is important to first relate to the players what your understanding of the situation is. This makes sure there are no misunderstandings in the way you interpreted the players' stories. If you can't come to an agreement at this point you will need to investigate further or make a decision based on your judgment.

This is a very difficult step when the situation becomes more complicated. The players both have their own agendas, can be upset, or maybe there is something else in the way of an easy solution all together. It is always very important to keep in control (more on that in the next article) of the situation and be very clear. Often when there is tension between the players, they will both start talking when you arrive at the table and it is up to you to make them listen to you and have them explain the situation. Make sure that players understand that you will listen to both their stories before you will contemplate a ruling. There is often a point on which they disagree and here one of the players might try to interrupt again. Calm them down and make sure they understand it is not their turn to talk yet.
When all that is done, it is time to move onto the next step.

Step 4: Close

In direct sales, you close the deal at this point. At a table as a judge, this is the point you make the actual ruling. When you are at the point where further investigation of the situation will not result in you changing your ruling, you will need to make the ruling. This step is very easy: state what you are doing and why.

Step 5: Rehash

Step 4 can only be so short because it is followed by another step: The Rehash. In this step you make sure people understand what you just "sold" them. In direct sales, you could even try to go for extra sales, but of course this does not apply to judging. In judging, it comes down to making sure the players understand and accept your ruling. It happens that everything you did up to the Close was clear and understandable to the player—however they might not be aware of the Penalty Guide and had not expected the penalty you gave. It is possible you need to go back to the Presentation stage and gather some more information depending on the reason for the disagreement. Sometimes your ruling will be appealed and you will have to get the head judge.


So, why put all this in writing? You are already doing all of this, right? Even though you are doing these things without thinking, seeing them in writing helps you realize what you are doing and notice other people doing it. This enables you to see what you do differently and what you or someone else can change. Changing small things in how you actually make the ruling can really make a difference in the way the players will see you.

These things really helped me in looking for ways to better present myself and made me better able to help other judges with improving small things which had a big impact.

Part 2

The next article will be about the 8 steps with which you can get a more successful work day. Thanks for reading,



Gijsbert Hoogendijk