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The Guild Counsel: How to handle the horrors of conflict

Karen Bryan

With the arrival of Halloween, I'd like to revisit an all-too-common nightmare scenario: handling guild conflict. We've looked at how to treat complaints before, but what should you do when those complaints balloon into full-fledged clashes?

Guild leaders dread dealing with conflicts, to the point that it deters many players from giving guild leadership a try. But even if strife is inevitable, it can be made less painful. Let's take a look at how to steer through the choppy waters in this week's Guild Counsel.

Don't jump to conclusions

Any time a member brings up an issue he disagrees with, it's easy to immediately take the other side. It often feels as if every online conversation is a back and forth debate, so it's hard to step back and consider someone else's opinion. But you can't be right all the time, and there will be times when you're in the wrong on a confrontation. The sooner you can spot it and rectify it, the better.

Prepare in advance

One of the worst things players do when they're upset is to rant right away. We've all seen the /ragequits and the emotional posts in guild forums, which are quickly retracted the next day. Guild members are wise to step away, take a little time to calm down, and then speak about it later. It's possible that the emotions are justified, but if they aren't, you can't take it all back once it's out there.

Similarly, guild leaders should take time to think things through if they have to confront a member over an issue if they can. And it helps to go over exactly what you plan on saying, so that it comes out the right way and has the tone you want.

Let them talk

Occasionally, it's not even necessary to actually do something when a member approaches you. Just letting her vent and giving her a chance to get something off her chest might be enough. Let the player talk and avoid interrupting her if possible. Even if you don't agree with her in the end, she might be more willing to see your side of things if she believes that you heard her out.


And if you agree on certain points but not on others, make sure to point out where you do have common ground. It's much easier to accept the differences in opinion when a member knows that you're taking him seriously and validating the areas where you do agree.

Stick to the big picture

Conflicts are like branches on a tree: Just when you think you've addressed one point, the conversation diverts to another. Don't fall into the trap of trying to discuss every single issue that's brought up. Stick to the important topics and don't entertain the superfluous ones. If you begin to feel as if you're being confronted with minor problems, it usually means you've done a good job addressing the ones that matter, and it's time to walk away.

Stay calm and remain professional

Some conflicts are extremely sensitive, and it's hard to bear the brunt of someone's ire and not show emotion. But confrontations can quickly escalate and get out of hand if you let them get to you and you lose control. Unfortunately, many confrontations that could be resolved end up festering because both sides chose emotion rather than reason.

The Guild Counsel How to handle the horrors of conflict
Restate and repeat

It's all too easy to misunderstand things online because we can't see body language and have to rely just on voice or text. It's often helpful to follow up someone's point by restating what he's said and asking whether that's what he meant. It shows that you are listening, that you are taking the time to try to understand the point, and that you want to get the facts. And in some cases, when a person does hear back what he's said, he's better able to accept things if you don't end up agreeing with him.

Curb the aggression

It's helpful to say calm, but that doesn't mean you have to take abuse. If a player is too aggressive in tone, there's a good chance she's too emotional to listen to what you have to say, no matter how reasonable you might be. Consider ending the conversation and giving it another shot once the dust has settled. Of course, that might not be feasible, and you might need to cut off not only the conversation but also the player's ties to the guild.

Set a plan

If you've kept a cool head and navigated through the confrontation, it's time to set a plan going forward. If you do need to make a change in how you're running things, don't delay in brainstorming what you need to tweak. If your resolution is that you don't need to make a change, consider ways to avoid a repeat of this same confrontation in the future.

It's hard to run a guild and not have an occasional flare-up. Guilds often feel like second families, and just as family members sometimes butt heads, guildmates will also have clashes. Handling conflicts is part of running a guild, but it shouldn't dominate your time in-game. Staying calm and reasonable helps to reduce the time you spend on issues with members, but members need to know that it's not OK to choose aggression first if they do have a problem. Fortunately, the better able you are to handle conflict, the fewer conflicts you will tend to have over the long haul.

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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