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Constructive Criticism: The Raiding Guild and The Candidate

On March 5th, 2008 I posted a question on Blog Azeroth. The question was:

Question: How does one go about giving constructive advice to others about their gear, talents, skills, spells, class, or any other aspect of the game? How do you handle giving someone advice who “knows-it-all”?

At the time this was a real issue for me and a large concern. I eagerly awaited responses from fellow bloggers, but to this day not one person has responded to that question. Well, I guess I can’t blame anyone. I suppose they don’t know the answer any better than I.

However, Matticus brought up the same topic today and I felt the need to respond. As I started to think about my response, all this crap started falling out of my head. Well, mom always said I had $#%! for brains. So head on over to Open Discussion: How Do You Improve Players Without Coming out as an Arrogant Jerk? and read Matt’s hypothetical situation, then come on back.

I’d like to address Matt’s questions from two viewpoints: the viewpoint of the raiding guild and the viewpoint of the recruit. Since I’m inspired by Matt’s hypothetical situation, I’ll approach it with the healer in mind, but this can be just as easily applied to any class or spec.

There are several things during the recruiting process that need to be addressed up front from the guild’s perspective:

Know where you stand
Know when to offer advice/criticism
Know how to offer advice/criticism
Know when to cut your losses

There are several things during the recruiting process that need to be addressed up front from the candidate’s perspective:

Know where you stand
Know when to accept advice/criticism
Know how to accept advice/criticism
Know when to cut your losses

The Raiding Guild

Know Where You Stand

Make sure that your candidate knows where your guild stands with regards to expectations and that the guild members know the same in return. This is where I see a problem occurs with the average raider.

Raiders wants results and they want results now. They feel that everyone in the group should be at their level or greater. They deserve to be able to down the boss with minimal wiping and frustration. Yet they often forget that they were once in the same boat and more importantly in this case they need that healer to achieve their goals. If they offend the healer, especially without a potential backup, when will they get to go back?

Is it not better to suffer through some frustration hoping to help this new guy out, keep him loyal, and move on? Or is the here and now just so important as to not look to the future? I’m not saying you should have to wait months or even weeks for the person to figure it out. Just set those goals and expectations so all are aware of the time frame. Amazing how much a person can put up with if they see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is why it is so important to ensure that the guild members understand potential issues with new recruits and that they are on board with assisting in helping and retaining those recruits. It’s for the good of the guild as a whole and that’s often forgotten.

If you have specific gear requirements, make it known up front. If they don’t meet it, but you still believe they’re a prime candidate, give them the support on being able to get whatever they need. Give them a timeframe in which you expect this to be done. Let others know so they can assist in speeding up the process.

Discuss healer smarts with them. Ask them what they would do given certain situations. This one’s difficult, but try to come up with more specific situations than what’s the healing priority? Everyone knows it’s the tank first. Please forgive my example as I only went to Gruul’s for the first time last night in the middle of a raid that lost a healer. Didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. And no, this isn’t a personal example. I was on the main tank.

Take for example, having one main tank and two off-tanks at Gruul. You’re assigned to one of the off-tanks and told to assist the main tank should he get low. One healer is assigned to raid heals only and to assist tanks as necessary. You have the mana to spare. Ten raiders are at 50% or less after an AOE attack. Your tank is at 90%, the main tank is at 75%. What do you do?

The answers may vary here depending on your own expectations. Is it important that he trust the raid healer to get to those 10 or should he assist? Assist the main tank? Conserve the mana? Spend it? There might not be a right answer, but the way in which the person answers usually gives you an indication of how well they will do. Someone who beats around the bush is indecisive and better to have someone who makes the wrong decision than have someone who can’t make one at all.

As a pally healer, situational awareness is difficult for me. I have to stand still to cast any of my healing spells and my eyes are glued to the health bars of all those around me and in crisis situations it can sometimes be hard to see that AOE that I’m standing in. It’s easy to lose sight of when the tank moves and where I need to be to stay in range. I’m only getting better at this as I learn what damage my fellow raiders are capable of sustaining so I can look away for a time and through repeatedly doing the boss fight over and over. I’m not sure there’s any good way to train someone for this other than through repetition, but make the importance of this known. Suggest watching online videos of the boss fights to help them at least know what goes on and what they need to look for.

Know When to Offer Advice/Criticism

The number one reason I’ve experienced in losing potentially great guild members is criticizing during an actual raid or instance. Its human nature to bring up questions about what happened or who was to blame for that last wipe. DON’T DO IT!! Make sure your raiders are aware that they should keep their collective mouths shut!

Let the leaders handle the situation. Don’t let anyone say “we wiped a second time because THE hunter didn’t re-ice trap the add AGAIN!”, hypothetically speaking of course. (/thinking “Granted we could have killed her the second time.”) Instead let the leader say “We let ice trap break leading to a wipe.” In a statement like this we avoid the accusatory nature of the first statement which singles someone out and instead places the blame collectively on the entire group. Everyone knows who let the ice trap break. Everyone knows who’s at fault. No one needs to point it out. Unless the one responsible is a total tool, they know it too. In a 25 man raid there’s even more anonymity and potentially less embarrassment for that person, if it’s kept general. Just remember this is teamwork. We succeed together, we fail together!

So when do we offer advice/criticism? After the raid, away from others. Nothing boils my blood faster than to be asked during an encounter “What’s your bonus healing at?” At times, it’s been because they were amazed, but more often than not I believe it to be a question regarding my healing abilities and the inability of others to accept any blame for what lead up to that wipe. At these times I have to struggle to remain calm or my decision making becomes impaired.

Know How to Offer Advice/Criticism

Leaders take notes during the raid, talk to the person one on one after the raid. Start off by asking them how they felt about the raid? Don’t ask them what they felt they did wrong. Let them do that on their own. You’ll be amazed at how much more open they’ll be if they have the opportunity to point out what they felt they did wrong before you did. Most people are more critical of themselves than you ever will be. Don’t necessarily disagree with them on their self-criticism, especially if it’s regarding important items. Often people will criticize themselves about trivial matters. This is the tool you’ll use to help them stay on the path to improvement. More importantly, this is when you offer advice. I say advice because at this point it will feel more like advice than criticism.

If you end up with someone that doesn’t point out some of the things they did wrong or shifts all blame to others, then you know you probably have someone you don’t necessarily want to group with anyway as they’ll never be accountable for anything. At this point, it’s entirely up to you on how you want to handle criticizing them and whether you even want to continue the trial period.

Matticus, you also answered your own question as to how to offer advice. Explain the why. During a raid, especially a fast moving one, there’s no time to explain the why. In Common Courtesy: Sleeping with the Dodo I explained a situation in which a Raid Leader didn’t explain the why of a particular situation until those who didn’t listen experienced the why. He pointed it out condescendingly and mockingly earning absolutely no respect from those of us within the group. He expected us to do what he said, when he said, with no explanation.

The problem with the example I gave was no one knew this guy. We had no reason to trust that he was the authoritative figure for Kara that he claimed to be. There was no trust built there yet. Did it matter that he did in fact know what he was talking about? No. He handled it incorrectly. He did have the time to explain before the first pull, just refused to do so. His answer was “Just do it!” He then handled the explanation afterwards unprofessionally.

People are not lemmings. We do not like to blindly follow anyone. Only those we trust will we agree to follow blindly as required, but even then we eventually expect some sort of explanation afterwards. Whether that explanation comes in finding out the hard way or having it explained verbally doesn’t matter. Knowing the why behind something gives us the reassurance that whatever we are doing is not in vain. There is a purpose behind our actions. It is important. We are needed. We fear that which we do not understand. [Edit: I believe this is a quote from someone, but can’t find it on the web.]

With regards to offering advice on specs? I don’t know the answer. Just make sure you know what you are talking about. Being criticized by the mage who doesn’t know how to control his aggro for not being able to keep the raid properly healed because he doesn’t understand the first thing about pally healing only frustrates the paladin and makes the mage look stupid to anybody that does understand. This is why I’m very careful to criticize another for their spec or class and keep my mouth shut. Make sure you know what you are talking about. Granted if that warlock is #8 on the damage meter in Kara, only beating the two healers, in full epic gear and according to Be Imba!report out gears everyone except the main tank and one DPS warrior, AND spec’d Affliction? You might have an obvious problem you can complain about. (*cough, cough. Totally hypothetical, of course.)

With your example Matticus, you stated:

“Bob, you know, you’re an excellent healer. You do what you’re told and heal who you’re asked to heal. You’ve been a tremendous service to the Guild. But I’m in a tough bind here. I can only let in 7 healers at a time and you don’t exactly supply a lot of options for yourself. You’re specced Spirit without the Improved Spirit. You also don’t have Circle of Healing. Why should I take you? You’re useless to me. Give me a reason to take you. I want to take you in, I really do. But when I weigh you against the other potential classes, it looks quite grim.”

You started out great giving him a sense of worth. You even said that you’re in a tough bind, which conveys the sense that hey I’m getting pressure from above. This helps ease the person from taking it personally. Won’t stop it, but makes it easier. Don’t say “Why should I take you? You’re useless to me.” I read this somewhat as a joke, but I’ve read some of your other Bob posts.

It’s amazing how you can change the tone of a statement and still have the sense of urgency just by altering the way you say something. Say things like “Help me out here. I’ve noticed you’re spec’d x. What if you spec’d y?” By including them on the “improvements” you haven’t dictated to them what to do. They are included and feel their opinion is important. Again, goes back to this trust issue. You can always say “Hey, let’s try it and see if it works better for you. If it doesn’t, I’ll pay the respec costs.” A minor gesture for anyone raiding, but also gives the person a feeling they have an out.

Know When to Cut Your Losses

There are times when you will come across candidates that are the greatest people in the world, people you just love being around, but just aren’t going to cut it based on your guild’s needs and expectations. Knowing when to cut your losses with these people can be very difficult. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you also can’t spend any more time trying to help the guy out. Know when to say when.

You may find that you want to keep them in the guild as a reserve, but make it clear that is what they are there for. However your guild might handle it, deal with it appropriately. Avoid making promises that may never come to fruition.

Regardless of the type of candidate you have, try to end it on as positive a note as possible. You never know when you’ll run into this guy again. Perhaps in the future he’ll end up with a guild that can help him out and eventually he’ll learn what he needs to learn. It’d be a shame to have burned a bridge there. Try to keep the door open for future possibilities, but treat it like a Band-Aid and remove it as quickly and painlessly as possible. Don’t drag it out!

The Recruit

Know Where You Stand

What is it that you’re looking for? Are you looking for a guild that raids on particular nights? Are you looking for a guild to grow with or a guild that’s almost maxed out? Do you want to be helped along? Do you want to be one of those that does the helping? Basically, what’s important for you?
I’ve seen people come and go because they thought they could get a free ride through raids. I’ve seen people come and go because they thought they were so good that they’d outshine all the rest. There are any number of reasons as to why someone joins a new raiding guild. Make it easier on yourself and the recruiting guild by knowing exactly where you stand and where you want to be.

Find out what the goals of the recruiting guild are and see how closely they match up to your own. Be honest with yourself. I’ve had friends join horrible guilds because of the content they could do, only to complain to me and be miserable the entire time. They made their choice. It was more important to go after that upgrade than it was being miserable in a guild they couldn’t have cared less about. There are guilds out there that will match your goals. Be patient.

Know When to Accept Advice/Criticism

This may sound like an odd comment, but this is very important. Hopefully you will not be criticized during a raid or encounter. Hopefully this will be done on the side as time permits elsewhere, so both parties can fully address the issue without having to shorten anything due to time constraints. That said, it is going to happen.

If you are offered advice or criticized during a raid, don’t fight back. You don’t have to accept it, just put it to the side. Take things said during raids with a grain of salt. Emotions could be running high. Things might be said that aren’t thought out and with other information may not have been said or thought at all. Adjust as necessary, but don’t feel you have to blatantly accept all criticism during those heated encounters.

Not accepting the criticism is not the same as fighting back. Push it to the side. Don’t retaliate!

Know How to Accept Advice/Criticism

This is difficult for most people. I can attest that I am one of them. Try to remember one general rule. If you’re being offered advice away from the mob mentality and the raid, you’re probably thought of as being of value. Take it so. If you weren’t worth the time, you’d be brushed off and no one would say anything.

Remember the raiders want you to succeed as much as you do. It doesn’t always sound like it, but it’s true. If you succeed, they succeed. If you fail, they fail.

At times you’ll be accused unfairly, it’s going to happen. Listen to it calmly. If you have a counter argument, present it to the person after they have had the chance to explain their side. If you don’t you’re going to end up in a heated exchange as each side tries to fully explain their side of the argument.

Make sure you present any counter argument by knowing your stuff. Don’t shift blame! Even if it wasn’t entirely your fault, but there was something you could have done better, accept the responsibility for your part. I cannot stress this enough! Nothing aggravates the leader trying to help you faster than you attempting to divert all blame to others, even if it’s later found out you were entirely not at fault. You shift blame and you’ll be labeled as one who never accepts accountability and not a team player. Let the leaders deal with the others. Accept your part and their advice on what to do and move on. The next time when you do your part, it will be painfully obvious that you did all you could and leaders can more fully address the problem elsewhere.

Know When to Cut Your Losses

Knowing when to cut your losses is also tricky from the candidate’s side. There are websites out there dedicated to tracking your movements. Good guilds will know if you’re a guild jumper or not and that’s a label you don’t want following you around. However, there are times when things just do not work out. Guilds may want to keep you, but their goals don’t match yours.

Decide what’s important to you and move on, whether by staying or leaving. Don’t let things drag out thinking they will get better. Do something about it. Talk to your leaders. If they are unresponsive, get out. They obviously aren’t worried about your needs. Only you can determine when you should leave, but always leave on as positive a note as possible. You’ll run across these people again whether in this guild or another. Don’t burn a bridge! There may be millions of accounts out there, but it’s amazing how you keep running into the same people over and over.

Conclusion

Matticus pointed out that without the healers his guild is effectively paralyzed. He is aware of their limitations with respect to gear, specs, and experience. That said it needs to be made perfectly clear to all those involved that there is a huge possibility that they will not succeed over the next couple of weeks and the whining and complaining need to be kept quiet. This is for the good of the guild. Negativity directed towards anyone will only drive people away and healers perhaps more than most. There always seems to be a shortage of healers and even more so of effective healers and we know it. We’re a commodity and we know you need us more than we need you. Terrible attitude to have by the way, healers! I’ve been guilty of it in the past too, but that’s a selfish attitude that causes groups to fall apart.

By taking these healers on you’ve essentially agreed that you know their weaknesses and are willing to work with them to improve. You seem to have two options before you. Do you come on strong risking the possibility of offending them and driving them away only to start all over with someone else in a never-ending cycle? Or do you coddle and reassure them giving them warm and fuzzies so as not to tread on any toes and potentially lose them only to continue down a frustrating and fruitless never-ending cycle of failure? Neither one seems appealing and neither one is the answer. Finding the happy medium is the struggle.

In summary, whether recruiting or being recruited remember to:

Know where you stand
Know when to accept/offer advice/criticism
Know how to accept/offer advice/criticism
Know when to cut your losses

Have fun and good luck!

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