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From Classroom to Raid, Part 2

March 10, 2011

Dear Reader,

With the many people around the sphere talking about criticism in all its forms, I thought I’d chime in, as well.  I’m about a week late to it, admittedly, but there have been a few RL things popping up (I posted another blog on that just now, for those who are interested in non-WoW related issues).

As a teacher, I barter in social capital.  The trust my students have in me is built upon mutual respect, high expectations, fairness, and, most relevant to this correspondence, honesty.  When they make a mistake, I tell them.  When I made a mistake, I tell them that, too.  If they’re treated unfairly, I’ll be honest with them about it, but also point out that the power structure in the school is what it is.  By treating them like the adults I want to see them growing into, by being honest about my feelings about their performance and behavior (for both good and bad), they learn that they can trust my opinions and judgments.

The flip side of that are teachers who spend all their social capital right away and think they’re doing the right thing.  When teachers “sacrifice” a kid on the first day to make a point about who’s the boss, they start in social capital debt.  When they act like tyrants (no, wait, I act like a tyrant, let me rephrase) when they are tyrants, they spend that social capital.  When they overreact to a minor disruption… you get the point.  By being a good person most of the time, I am able to better misbehave when needed because I’ve earned the trust and respect of my students.

Criticism, too, is a social capital.  You earn capital by giving out warranted praise.  You spend it by giving negative criticism (constructive or not, though constructive costs less).

The same is true for raid leaders, as well.  If you want to have a functioning raid (particularly in Cataclysm), you need to have a team who trusts you, a team from whom you’ve garnered lots of social capital, mostly from behaving as described above (not the tyrant part, the other part).  The dangers lie in the many pitfalls of earning and spending social capital.

It’s easy to think you’re earning capital when you’re in fact spending it.  One example of this is giving false praise.  I have seen a lot of raid leaders smooth over cracks in the raid or soften the blow of a wipe by giving false praise.  Congratulating people when they make mistakes is easily spotted, and raiders don’t like that.  Doing so makes raiders think that either you don’t know what happened, which causes them to lose trust in your judgment, or that you’re pandering, which makes you look a little dishonest.

Be honest.  If a wipe happened, but progress was made towards downing a boss, that’s praise-worthy; that’s not false praise.  However, if a wipe happens because several people didn’t follow a specific mechanic that they got right before, be honest.  Say that the attempt wasn’t a good one.  You don’t have to be vicious or harsh, just honest about your feelings.

Similarly, criticisms need to be direct, but not necessarily overt.  It’s fine to make a blanket statement like “I saw several people standing in the fire that time,” but you need to also whisper the people doing so and let them know that they were doing it and that it should be corrected.  You don’t need to “call out” people, but sometimes people are unaware of what they’re doing wrong, so if they’re not meeting your expectations, you need to directly tell them, otherwise, if they don’t fix the problem, really, you’re to blame.

The flip side of this is that when someone does something great, you should call them out for it.  Make a habit of publicly congratulating people on their play, be it their dps, their CCing, their tanking, their healing – whatever.  If you see someone saved in a pinch, let the savior know you noticed and that it’s appreciated.  By lauding praise publicly and handling disappointment privately, you both encourage better play and show respect for your teammates by not embarrassing them.

On that note, make sure to use honest praise often, even after chiding a group about a wipe.  A good strategy is called the “sandwich” strategy.  You start by talking about what was done well, then talk about what needs to be improved, then reiterate what was done well with an emphasis on continuing to do it well.  We’ve all been in raids where the raid leader disciplined a group for messing up mechanic “B,” only to have the next wipe caused by mechanic “A,” which everyone was doing well before.  Finishing on the good work emphasizes the importance of not moving backwards in progression to down bosses.

Lastly, criticism needs to be specific.  You can’t tell someone just that they suck; that tells them nothing.  You should be as specific as possible both about what you saw going wrong as well as how you want to see the error corrected.  Being a raid leader means you should either know strategies or know people who can explain strategies, so don’t just tell someone “you need to move out of the fire.”  Tell them how to notice the fire, the warnings before the fire, and good ways for their class to get quickly (if any exist).  I remember in ZA back when it was hard having someone mention that you could hear rain right before the lightning phase on Jan’Alai (the dragonhawk boss – had to look that one up).  The next attempt was our first time downing him.  That simple, tiny suggestion made all the difference, whereas just complaining “too many people are getting hit by lightning” had made no effect.

So to summarize, make sure you use a lot of honest positive praise.  Make sure that your constructive criticism is direct, respectful, and specific.  Remember also that social capital is made and spent all the time, from a fleeting compliment to a snide, sarcastic remark (I spend social capital that way all the time, unfortunately).  If all of these strategies seemed like common sense, great!  I bet you’re a great raid leader; I’ve noticed, though that common sense is rarer than we sometimes think, so I hope these parallels between WoW and teaching will help.



5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 7:01 pm

    Great post. I think one big issue, which you mention, is the fact that people rarely tell eachother about the good things. I did a post about this a long time ago where I asked people to tell eachother “hey that was some good tanking/healing/interrupting/whatever” in random pugs (or anyplace appropriate), eventhough those people were perhaps just doing something that was expected of them. Works just as good as it does outside of WoW (where people too are generally bad at this).

    • March 11, 2011 11:50 am

      I recently told a pug healer in a group with myself of three friends (so he was the only “outsider”) that he was an excellent healer (we had not pulled the fire elementals in the forge in BRC back far enough and had a lot of fire oozes dealing the stacking fire debuff damage). I added that he really should hear it because I’m sure that he didn’t hear it nearly enough. He chuckled and agreed. This guy (or girl) was able to keep up all five people while three or four oozes battered them on top of the actual elemental, and no one had told him he was doing well.

      Tell people. Compliment them. Build relationships, even with people on another server. PuGs are not like tissues: strong, soft, and disposable. They’re real people out there. Thinking otherwise is a form of electronic sociopathy.

  2. January 2, 2013 7:42 pm

    Public praise; private criticism – best lesson for doing well at leading. I learned it from “How to Win Friends and Influence People” but it is a logical outlook, once you think about it.


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