Tag Archives: communication

Criticism in Guilds

Alright, I’m back from my vacation. If I run out of things to post, I might actually torture you with vacation impressions. You’re in luck though, because for today, I have a topic to write about. Like many of my posts, it started as a comment on a blog, but grew enough that I told myself, “wait a second, this is getting unwieldy enough for a comment to become a blog post on its own”.

I’ve been following Stubborn’s blog for some time. It’s been interesting to read about his experiences with his (now ex-) guild. I won’t say too much about that part; it’s water under a bridge by now, in a way. It didn’t work out, and I’m sure (or at least hope) that Stubborn sees it the same way, and won’t linger too much on “how it could maybe have turned out better”. Better to look into the future.

What I want to talk about (and what has been discussed to a certain point in that blog post’s comments) is an excerpt from his recent blog post (link below the quote):

That’s something that a lot of more casual guilds lack: the willingness to put players’ performance out there. It may be because they’re worried about people taking it personally[.] […] [I]n some of my guilds it’s just not considered acceptable. That baffles me; don’t people who are doing poorly want to know specific ways in which to improve? Of course, the fallacy there is that not everyone thinks the same way I do or wants to play the game the way I do.

Stubborn, of course, already hints at the problem with this, but I think he dances around the problem, as seem to do most commenters. They point out that some people are too touchy and can’t accept criticism, but also that some people voice criticism in the form of personal attacks.

I’d go a step further and say that the very same criticism can be both at the same time, to different people. People just have very different thresholds for criticism. And that doesn’t only apply to the point at which they get offended (I’ll call it the “tolerance threshold”), but also the point at which they start noticing hints and are able to apply the criticism constructively (which I’ll call the “response threshold”). So to provide effective, constructive criticism, you’ll have to take that into account. There are (at least) two factors at play here: tone and audience.

Regarding tone, some people are accustomed to strong responses. They are fine with and even prefer direct, sometimes even curt, factual criticism, will say “yessir”, and apply it. Others will shy away from the strong authority inherent to that tone, even become defensive. To reach those people, you are better off making sure you stay below the tolerance threshold. You will notice that those more easily offended people often have a low response threshold, too. It’s not necessary to be quite as direct. They will pick up the hints in what you say, and act accordingly, often improving quite well, because they don’t feel the pressure they might feel from a curt criticism.

Therefore, it’s often good to start soft. In one guild I was in, we had different people for the different approaches, because everybody’s best at one type of tone. I was typically the guy who tried it with careful hinting first, because I generally was quite okay at that. If that didn’t help, somebody else with a more direct approach took over, because they were better at being direct and potentially more confrontational.

The second factor is audience. Criticizing people in front of others is, by its nature, a more confrontational approach than private feedback. Therefore, if at all possible, I try to give criticism, even constructive factual one, in private rather than in public. Public criticism can very easily be perceived as humiliation in front of your peers. Private criticism is eye-to-eye and feels more like a discussion between peers, while public criticism easily has a component of power play, because the criticizing person can be perceived as being in a superior position to the criticized.

Of course, it can be quite hard to properly do private criticism in a raiding environment. You don’t want to wait with feedback until the end of the night, when you’re on your own, because you preferably want to give feedback before the next pull. So that only leaves public voice channels, or whispers. Which, in a time-constrained raiding atmosphere, make proper communication and tone problematic. So there’s a bit of a trade-off here. Some stuff isn’t so vital that it can’t wait until the end of the raid. In that case, it’s a good idea to just wait until then. A raid is already a stressful environment (if it’s progression, for all members; if it’s about a new member, even the simplest raid will be stressful to them while they adapt to the new environment; and so on). If possible, save yourself and the other person the additional stress and postpone criticism until after the raid.

Of course, it’s a fine line, and it doesn’t mean to ignore or postpone everything. Sometimes you just need to say, “Dude/Dudette, I know it looks pretty, but get out of the fucking fire!” (see what I did there? always add some light joke. bonus points for self-depreciation!)

So yeah, bottom line of my opinion: consider tone and audience in your criticism. Start easy and escalate from there. But that’s just my opinion, maybe there’s a reason I’ve never been a guild leader (not that I would ever want to do that, officer was more than enough for me, thank you!).