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The Guild Counsel: I have a complaint!

Karen Bryan

Complain, complain, complain. If you're a guild leader, chances are you've had a moment or two when you've felt like all you do in game is handle members' issues. And if you haven't led a guild, one of the main reasons you've probably avoided doing so is because you don't want to handle the drama of member complaints.

Whether you're a tough-as-nails captain or a fresh-faced greenhorn with good intentions, member complaints are one of the biggest things that wears you down and even causes you to give up leadership and leave altogether. In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll look at a few ways to handle guild complaints while hopefully keep your sanity at the same time.

Remain calm. This is very hard to do, but it's important to separate yourself from the emotions. Focus on what someone is saying, not on the tone of how it's being said. If you can maintain a calm demeanor, you'll be able to identify the root of the issue quickly, and more often than not, you'll also defuse arguments and calm the other person down a bit.

Divide and conquer. If you have a crowd accosting you, the first thing you should do is identify the ringleader and isolate him in a non-aggressive manner. If need be, make it a policy that you will only deal with complaints on a case-by-case basis. Someone who is unhappy tends to look to others for support (misery loves company). Next thing you know, you're facing a mob and you're greatly outnumbered. If you can pull aside the ringleader, you'll find it easier to focus on the issues, and if things end up getting resolved, you probably won't need to take on the others in the mob. More often than not, the complaining member will go back and talk his friends off the ledge.

Get all the facts. If this is something that a member already broached to an officer, make sure you have a handle on what was said. The last thing you want is for a member to tell you that officer_01 already promised something and then you're the bad guy for vetoing it without knowing.

Take notes (and screenshots!). It helps to have some notes after the fact, along with screenshots of the conversation. In the short term, you want to make sure you have your facts straight. Sometimes when things are emotionally charged, details can get a little fuzzy. And over the long term, it's a great reference tool to help you learn from previous complaints and past decisions.

Everything you say can and will be used against you. Whether or not you take screenshots and notes, you can guarantee that the other party will. Assume that every time you send a tell or a message in game, it's being seen not only by that member but by every single person in your guild. You can spend 99% of the conversation being calm and reasonable, but that one single off-the-cuff remark or emotionally charged comment will be the only thing that members will focus on.

Airing dirty laundry is a no-no. While you want to avoid saying controversial or inflammatory things to a member, you don't have to put up with it if someone does break out screenshots or divulges details of the conversation.

Make sure you're consistent. There are times when you'll have members come to you with similar issues that arise under very different circumstances. While the context might be different, if you decide one way for one person and something different for another person, you're going to have problems. In those cases, it pays either to be consistent in your decision or to clearly explain how the conditions led you to the decision you made.

I once had an issue in which a member's wife was running a small, casual guild of friends. We had grouped a bit, and some of them had joined us on our raids, since they weren't a raiding guild. Some of them had asked about bringing characters over to our guild while also keeping some characters in the other guild. I normally don't allow people to have characters in other guilds, because it's nearly impossible for someone to contribute in two different guilds at the same time. But in this instance, I allowed it, partially because we all were so close already and partially because I knew that the other guild was so casual and low-key that there wouldn't be a conflict.

Don't be afraid to acquiesce. It's so easy to jump into battle-mode and feel like you have to stand firm no matter what. And more often than not, it's the member's fault for shoving you into that stance. But if you look past the emotions, defuse the situation, and have a rational conversation, there's a chance that what the member is saying actually makes sense. In that case, go with your gut on what's fair. I've occasionally had members complain about loot calls, and there have been a few times when, after hearing out a member, I end up agreeing with him and work on finding a way to make up for it. Each time that happened, the member ended up being even more supportive and loyal, because he felt like he was treated fairly and he was able to see things from my point of view.

It's a game. At the end of the day, you always have to remind yourself that it's a game and that your main goal should be running a guild in which your members find fun in the game. I used to tell my guild members that if they were online and we were raiding, they were expected to be there. What I began to notice was that members were simply not logging on at all or were sneaking off to play untagged alts. I've since changed my tone, and I've found that giving people the breathing room to log in and not always have to be at a raid has helped us keep the core of our raiders over the long term. Members are less likely to get burned out, and they raid better because they're not there out of obligation -- they're there because they want to be.

This might not be the guild for you. In EverQuest, after spending literally weeks deep in Solusek B camping Zordak for a guildmate's Cleric epic, the Cleric's player told me she would like to retire her healer and play her Ranger on raids. To say I was frustrated is putting it mildly -- she complained for weeks about having to wait for our other guild Cleric to finish his epic, and she knew that a Cleric with a clicky-rez was a game-changer on raids. So for her to decide to retire her cleric, just days after getting the entire guild to help her with her epic, was the last thing I wanted to hear.

My response to her was, sure, she could play her Ranger from now on. After all, as I mentioned above, it's just a game, and people need to find their own fun. And when you get down to it, there's really nothing I can do to stop her from playing the Ranger and retiring the Cleric. But I also told her she'd have to do that without an RnH tag. We're a guild that helps each other out and works together to progress, and what she did was basically take advantage of that. Quite simply, we weren't the guild for her. (Although I'm not sure that there was any guild that would allow that!)

At the end of the day, member complaints are part of the territory when you don your guild leader's cap. But you don't need to let it take over your game time. Try to find a balance between handling important issues and getting in your play time. It's OK to stay hands-off with minor complaints -- sometimes leaving members to handle things themselves will bring about a better resolution than if you had intervened. Just make sure that you handle major problems as soon as you can and keep a level head while doing so!

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

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