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The Guild Counsel: Dealing with problem players

Karen Bryan

Whether she's an in-your-face, type A general or a laid-back denmother, no guild leader enjoys dealing with disruptive players. There's enough to manage as it is, and problem members can put the leader in a very difficult position. But if not handled correctly, that member can cause no end of problems in the guild and potentially even destroy it.

It's easy to say, "kick 'em!" but that could backfire and cause even more drama. Dealing with problem players is complicated but not impossible. In today's Guild Counsel, let's look at a few things to consider.

Why problem players are a big problem

A guild member who's disruptive is like a snowball rolling down a mountain, taking out everything in its path. He can cast a pall over guild chat and completely change the tone and atmosphere in the guild. Everyone in the guild is affected, with some tiptoeing around trying to steer clear of drama and others tackling it head-on, causing the guild to feel like a battlefield. And over time, members feel as if they need to take sides, which fractures the guild entirely.

You've worked hard to establish a cohesive guild, and you've done your best to properly screen players and create a successful guild culture, but that can all change overnight thanks to one single disruptive member.

Problem players are like snowflakes

There's a lot to consider when dealing with a disruptive member, and the better you understand your guild, the easier it is to troubleshoot. It's best to take a moment and go through some questions to put it in proper context before coming up with a solution. First, what is the behavioral issue? Did you witness it first-hand, and if not, how reliable are the sources that brought it to your attention? I've seen plenty of set-ups through the years to know that you can't always take everything at face value -- that "problem player" might actually be innocent.

Next, does the member have a history of bad behavior, or is this something new? Is he doing it because of something he's unhappy with something or someone in the game or in the guild? If so, is it something you can fix? Or did the person's real-life troubles trigger this behavior? A little compassion can go a long way, and everyone has a bad day/week/month from time to time. In fact, there are many stories of guilds being that support network that's helped someone through tough times. That problem player might be a good person who needs a little support.

After that, take some time to examine the effect the situation is having on the guild. Is this mainly an issue between two individuals, or is the problem player affecting multiple members? How has it changed things in the guild? Is this something you can address yourself, or do you feel it would help to include additional members in handling it?

The verdict

Everything is on the table when it comes to resolving issues with players. A good first step is to talk to the person, hear him out, and give your take on things as well. Some players might not be aware of what their actions are doing to the guild, while others might wise up if they know you're aware of their behavior and won't condone it. If you have established a guild culture, a new member might need a little clarification about what's acceptable and what's not, since what might have been OK in a previous guild is not OK in yours. Culture clashes are a common reason for guild drama, and they're actually very easy to solve because they come down to your guild's way or the highway.

If it's a complicated situation, you might not want to jump to a guild removal, but you could suggest the person take some time off, particularly if the reason for the disruptive behavior is from a real-life issue. Giving people the time to work out personal problems might be best in the long run because hopefully they'll return with fresh legs, a happier demeanor, and an appreciation for your not giving up on him.

If you include other members in handling the issue, do it for the right reasons. Sometimes, including others helps to get everyone on the same page without your needing to go back and forth from player to player. But it can backfire because if that problem player feels he's in the hot seat, he might become defensive rather than understanding, and you'll have lost the chance to come to an easy resolution.

The Guild Counsel  Dealing with problem players
Don't let the guild make the decision for you

Whatever happens, don't let things drag out to the point that the guild makes the decision for you. It's all too easy to back away and hope it resolves itself, but letting it fester will undoubtedly increase the amount of drama. Members will resent not only the disruptive member but you as well for abandoning leadership when it's most needed. And one of the quickest ways for members to end the drama is to vote with their feet and leave the guild. Even if things get resolved in the end, the guild leader might be left with a smaller guild and/or a guild that has lost trust in him. And once that trust is gone, it's very hard to get it back.

Time to kick

I'll never understand players who relish a guild removal. There are some leaders who almost take pride in it, and that's unfortunate. There's an enormous difference between not tolerating someone's BS and celebrating a guild kick with a touchdown dance. If you find yourself doing guild removals regularly, then you aren't doing a good job of screening prospective members, not that you're a strong, no-nonsense guild leader. A guild removal is serious, and if treated that way, it makes members pay more attention to how they behave in guild and act with others. I'd be willing to wager that longtime guild leaders have seen a very low number of guild kicks, and they've probably done fewer and fewer each year. The time they took to troubleshoot disruptive behavior pays off in the long run because they see less of it overall. They've created a guild atmosphere where everyone feels like part of team, and when they feel that their peers respect them and trust them, they're more likely to reciprocate. You might not be able to avoid all drama, but you can certainly reduce it with a little compassion, an understanding ear, and quick decisive action when there are flare ups.

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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