Saying the Right Thing the Wrong Way   14 comments

In my opinion one of the trickiest things to deal with as part of a guild’s leadership team is often making sure that when you are dealing with problems, either during raids or outside of raids, your brain to mouth filter is intact and functioning. That is to say that just because you are thinking something, doesn’t mean that you necessarily should form that thought into words. This is frequently a lot harder than it seems, and is not limited to how you address your raid. In fact – I would wager that dealing with individuals is far more challenging.

There is no art or science to getting this “right”, and mistakes are frequently made as you attempt to navigate the treacherous terrain that is being “diplomatic”. There will be many missteps along the way, some more painful than others. How many times have you looked back on something, anything, and thought to yourself “heh, I sure didn’t handle that well”. I’d wager probably about everyone who is reading this post

Because learning from mistakes is often one of the best teaching tools, I thought that I’d save you all some learning pains and share a mistake that I made recently to illustrate how I said the right thing, what needed to be said, but in the wrong way. And then analyze how the situation could have been dealt with differently.

Background

Before we get started, you probably need some background information. If you’ve been a reader here long, you will know that one of the things that is key to our guild is that we are relatively drama free. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some that pops up here and there, but largely what does crop up is dealt with privately. That being said, every guild has their one person that seems to be a magnate for drama for whatever reason. We aren’t immune from that.

Now – our drama llama is a person that has been in the guild for quite some time, and has been the source of probably close to 80% of our guild drama for this expansion. Why, you may ask, do you even permit this? Well…because they are our drama llama. A known factor. And, well, because we have relatively little drama, in the big scheme of things 80% of a little drama really isn’t very much.

However, this is a person that I, personally, have historically had difficulty working with. They are stubborn, argumentative, frequently in need of attention and tend to know exactly which of my buttons to push to really piss me off. However, something else that I suspect about this person, based on their behaviors, is that they are also extremely insecure. This knowledge will come into play a bit later.

So what happened?

As you might suspect for someone described above, many private conversations took place. This particular person had been given the opportunity to express their frustrations to the leadership, and the leadership, on many occasions, has spoken to this person regarding the behavior that was causing problems.

Now as time went on this person had a number of things occur that was preventing them from regularly participating in our scheduled raids. It’s generally not a huge deal – we ask that people keep us informed on what’s going on and if we are able, work around it. However after months of inactive raiding, it become problematic and we seek to fill the gap in the raid roster.

One night this particular person was online, being, well, themselves, and comments were made from a number of people and this person got defensive and argumentative, and started in with the usual and largely expected behavior. However, this time we’d decided that we’d had enough. We’d been tolerating the behavior, and making seemingly futile attempts to have discussions with the person to fix said issues. So after the raid, we pulled them aside.

The conversation that occurred likely couldn’t even be classified as a conversation, as they generally require, you know, conversing. Instead it was exactly as stated above…enough. We were tired of feeling like we were talking until we were blue in the face to have improved behavior for a few weeks, and then be right back to square one. We were just tired of dealing with it. Either the behavior permanently improved, or the player needed to find a new place to call home. We were finished dealing with the drama. This player and been given opportunity after opportunity – and their nine lives were up, so to speak. This was their last chance. This was the message that needed to be conveyed.

Unfortunately, in my state of irritability at the situation, what was said to the player did in fact convey that message; however it most certainly wasn’t in the most diplomatic fashion. What did I tell them, you wonder? Well, I’m almost ashamed to tell you, but because this is a learning exercise, where I am sharing my mistakes for you to learn from – I will: “Quite frankly, what you are currently contributing to the guild just isn’t worth the drama that we have to deal with to have you here”.

Now, I am sure that there are plenty of you that are thinking “well, that isn’t so bad” (alternatively, some of you may be thinking about what a witch I am!). But remember a few paragraphs up where I suspected that this person was extremely self-conscious and insecure? Yea…telling someone like that they just aren’t worth the trouble probably isn’t the best way to solve a problem. Did I convey what I meant to convey? Yes, I most certainly did. In hindsight, did I convey it in the wrong way? Yes, I did.

How did that player respond?

Honestly – not well. Actually so not well that I felt a little guilty about it. The player just kind of vanished. From the game, from the forums, everywhere. Now, I don’t know if there were some underlying personal reasons behind the disappearance, but even if that were the case, I cannot imagine that the last conversation that we had did anything to make the player want to participate in any activities with the guild. And I’ll also be honest – as we were learning some of the more challenging encounters in Ice Crown having this player absent from our raids alleviated a lot of stress and tension. And not just from me.

However, having someone just completely shut themselves out of the game wasn’t really the intended response. Thinking twice about what they were saying/doing? Yes please. Making smarter decisions knowing that there will be permanent repercussions – including removal from the guild – if drama continues? Yes. Knowing that they are on their last chance, and adjusting behavior appropriately? That would be great. But completely just disappearing? Not quite what we were after.

What could have been done differently?

As the topic to this post indicates, the goal that we are trying to reach here is communicating what needs to be said, but in a good way.

Let’s take the example and errors that I’ve listed out above and analyze where things could have perhaps been handled a little differently.

1) Telling someone who is suspected to have low self esteem that they “aren’t worth it” was probably the biggest mistake that I made. Sure, we were sick of the drama…and this person had been given more chances to shape up than probably anybody else in the guild, but I probably could have found a more diplomatic way to make the statement, and stress that this was the final opportunity that this player had to get their act together. Don’t get me wrong – the meat of the message given was right on target, but the presentation was a bit faulty.

2) Personally dealing with someone that is known to frustrate me. I probably should have left this conversation to another member of the leadership team. Someone that the player isn’t so on edge with. Someone who would be somewhat more objective in communicating with the player what I communicated – only without such bite.

3) Not dealing with the topic while still irritated. This is a staple in my work environment – if I’m ticked at something, I always give myself a bit of cool down time before dealing with the problem. In this situation, perhaps waiting a day to cool down a little would have made me a little more clear headed and I would have had more time to put my thoughts, and subsequently my words, in order. Once something is said, it cannot be “unsaid”, you can’t take it back.

Those are just a few ways that I probably could have conveyed the message, which perhaps would have resulted in a better outcome for all involved.

But Beru, what if you needed to be this cold to get the message across? Believe me, this is also something that I’ve been thinking about. After having had so many conversations regarding the same things, maybe this cold slap in the face was the only way to wake the player up and make them understand that we were dead serious. However, I think if you are going to do or say things, they should be things that you are comfortable with and have no regrets over. While the strategy that was employed, and the things that were said, may have been needed, but when I look back on it, it’s not something I’m proud of and it’s not really “me”. I’m a problem solver, and can be a hardass when I need to be, but if I don’t feel comfortable about something that I’m doing, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it. And in this situation – I think that I probably did not handle it as well as I should have.

So where does it go from here?

Well, that is largely out of my hands. I did happen to see the player online over the weekend and offer out a sort of olive branch to them. It doesn’t change the things that were discussed; the drama still needs to stop. There are no “take backs” or “redos” on the things that were said. But the decision on what part the player wants to take in the guild is now up to them.

I’ve certainly been known to have a sharp tongue from time to time, there is no doubt about that. But sometimes, just like everyone else, I too do things that could have been handled better. Could there have been a way for me to handle this situation better? Probably. Will there be repercussions for the way I did handle it? Well, there already have been. Will I learn from this mistake? I think so. Will you learn from my mistake? Well, that is entirely up to you!

However, I do know that going forward, with the experiences that I’ve had, I will make a better effort not to say the right things in the wrong way.

What mistakes have you made?

I am sure that I am not the only person that has done something that they have regretted at some point and time. What stories do you have to share? Alternatively, what would you have done differently in my position?

Posted September 7, 2010 by Beruthiel in Guild Management

14 responses to “Saying the Right Thing the Wrong Way

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  1. You sure the person in question didn’t just try to guilt-trip you and the other guildies?

    “I’ll stay away and then they’ll MISS ME!”

    That kind of behaviour is common among insecure drama-llamas and I’m not sure if there would’ve been ANY formulation that wouldn’t have him/her driven off in a huff. :/

    Please don’t beat yourself up over that.

    • It is always possible that was what went through their mind – but only they would know for certain. :)

      Of course, that also doesn’t excuse the mis-steps I made either.

  2. Way to air my dirty laundry out in public, Beru. Thanks a lot.

  3. I will have to disagree with your conclusions :>

    WoW is a game, something that is supposed to be fun- when 1 person affects a groups ability to enjoy themselves you dont have to treat them like special little snowflakes.

    He created conflict.

    You gave chances.

    He ignored them.

    /wave

    End of. What happens after that is not your concern- you did right by your guild and its atmosphere, if he/she has issues he should talk to his friends, parents, psychologist etc.

    IMO the amount of chances you gave him/her absolves you from any guilt with regards to kicking their ass to the curb- sensitivity be damned (I think maybe your for sure much much nicer than I am). :P

    Just my two cents.

  4. I like your post and I think that a big part of leadership is indeed, to look back and question yourself about where you erred. but at the same time leaders are human beings too and many people around you forget that, expecting you to be perfect all the time and have the right answers to everything without ever being ‘too harsh’, or too personally involved or just plain annoyed about something or someone. it’s your right to be annoyed and sometimes it will show – people have to live with that imo or try and do it better.

    that said, I expect a lot of myself as a leader and of course I will always strive to be as diplomatic as i can, while sticking to the truth. it’s a balancing act sometimes and a good rhetoric can help you to stay calm and deliver a bad message in a way that won’t hurt the other person. there’s no intention to every hurt anyone.

    if you fail by all means look back and ask yourself how you could’ve reacted or worded things better. sometimes it actually helps to tell somebody that you need a moment to ponder everything and that you will get back to them. during this time you can focus and look at the issue coolly before you speak to that person again, maybe ask a co-officer for their views etc. imo that helps a lot to deal with tricky leadership business.

    never forget though that you shouldn’t second-guess yourself forever – in the end you’re human and the other person is by all means an adult and responsible for his own feelings (and the way he choses to understand you) too. leaders aren’t parents.

    • I don’t expect that I won’t make mistakes, I know full well that I will. I do agree that it’s important for leadership to constantly evaluate what decisions were made, and the effect those decisions had on everyone around them.

  5. “Quite frankly, what you are currently contributing to the guild just isn’t worth the drama that we have to deal with to have you here”.

    I think this is as objective as it can get. You weren’t saying the person is worthless; you were criticizing the person’s contribution.

  6. You weren’t wrong but I would probably be beating myself up in your place. It needed to be said, just in a better way (no necessarily ‘nicer’, just more diplomatically).

    Your second and third points from what could have been done differently are something just about everyone is guilty of at one time or another. At least you recognize it and try to deal with it better than most!

    • I frequently find that I learn life lessons while in game, or utilize lessons learned in life to the game. I think that there may be some truth to this whole older/wiser thing ;)

  7. “3) Not dealing with the topic while still irritated.”

    It’s a lose/lose situation in this case because if you wait, you may not do it at all. I’ve had situations where someone acted in a totally gross manner, but by the time the officers got together to discuss it, a week went by, and they weren’t peeved enough to say anything. Other times a week went by and they WERE still peeved enough to talk to the person, and the person had practically forgotten about it. Like whacking a dog for peeing on the carpet an hour after the mess occurred.

    Maybe it is harmful to discipline the raider on the spot but it’s also harmful to wait.

    • I think Zelmaru’s point echoes the biggest flag that went up in my head as I was reading your post. In fact, while in RL I prefer to let a day or two pass to let myself cool down, in-game I learned that you need to strike the iron while it’s hot. This implies an additional challenge for yourself, as you need to try to stay cool and control your words and your reactions. The alternative, however, works a lot worse.

      More in general, I think you are right in trying to replay what happened, to improve your understanding of such situation and make sure you handle it better. At the same time (as many people already said) you really cannot beat yourself over it: tbh I’d be surprised if your guildies found any fault in your handling of the situation, let alone we commenters who are less familiar with the general situation. So – learning and improving your leadership skills: yes; feeling guilty: no.

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