Raiding 101: Conflict Management - Part 1
In our Raiding 101 series, we discuss tips and tricks for various aspects of running a guild, which can range from guild leadership duties, to raid leading, to growing as a player. Today, we’ll talk about managing conflict between community members, as well as addressing conflict between a community member and leadership, with the power imbalances that arise in such a situation.
No matter how well-run your community is, disagreements will happen! We are, after all, only human. While excessive conflict likely indicates that something deeper is happening within your guild, the occasional disagreement is to be expected. What matters most in these situations is how you, your leadership team, and your community members themselves handle any interpersonal conflict that may occur.
Table of Contents
Why is Conflict Resolution Important?
Much of today’s technology has allowed us the luxury of avoiding conflict. You’ve likely noticed this conflict-avoidant behavior in World of Warcraft; it is all too common that frustrated players, when faced with any kind of setback, will simply snap, leave a situation, and maybe even disappear altogether. The anonymity of the Internet and WoW enables those who hate conflict to behave poorly, or to simply escape anytime they’re faced with an uncomfortable or frustrating situation.
While it is natural for us to be wholly conflict averse, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution will almost always bring about a better, more positive result. In the case of a close-knit community, it’s imperative that members are choosing healthy ways to manage their disagreements in order to preserve their relationships and their ties to the community as a whole. As leaders, it falls upon us to help model healthy conflict resolution, and step in to facilitate the process if members are struggling to do so themselves. Remember that we are all human, we all make mistakes, and many of us struggle with social anxiety and a deep-seated desire to please people instead of speaking our piece and standing up for ourselves. However, it’s of the utmost importance that we encourage healthy conflict resolution instead of allowing a disagreement to fester and grow into resentment and an overarching, all-consuming frustration. Unresolved tension is deadly to a community’s cohesion.
As leadership, your job is to model the behavior you hope to see in your community. Encourage yourselves and all members of your community to engage in conflict resolution on a small scale, so the process becomes easier and more comfortable when (not if) a bigger issue arises.
Basic Considerations for Conflict Management
Whether you notice a disagreement brewing in text chat, hear it developing in voice chat, or receive a complaint about another person, conflict between community members is something you will undoubtedly encounter. You shouldn’t need to jump in and resolve every problem immediately, but keep an eye on any developing situation and offer your team support as needed to bolster their confidence in pursuing conflict resolution over an ongoing argument.
Remember that for people who are not used to addressing their interpersonal frustrations head-on, conflict resolution can feel deeply stressful and intimidating. Recognize that men, especially online and in gaming communities, are often mocked for being vulnerable, and open, honest conversation is frowned upon as a sign of weakness. For women, many of us have been told a thousand times over that we are overreacting, being dramatic, or being hysterical if we speak up or hold our ground. Be compassionate and understanding about these very normal concerns.
You may find that helping members reframe their ideas of disagreement might help them feel more inclined towards resolution. Disagreements do not necessarily mean fighting, proving each other wrong, or assigning blame. Conflict resolution is a means through which people can express their feelings or concerns about a situation, stand up for themselves, and work through an issue so it does not become a reoccurring source of frustration and tension. If one or both members are anxious about approaching the other person, it may help to work through the situation in writing first - developing a written plan between the two of you may inspire more confidence when they go to approach the issue together.
No matter what, approach any upset or frustrated members with compassion! Being vulnerable can be stressful and anxiety-inducing.
RECOGNIZE THE COST OF AVOIDANCE
Help the member(s) in question understand why facing this conflict head-on will be more beneficial than choosing to ignore it. Growing tensions between guild members are not at all subtle, and will bleed over into affecting the morale of other members. Disagreements and little digs at each other may persist or become more frequent; if these things happen during a raid night, in a public chat, or otherwise in a space where other members can see them, you will almost certainly face questions and concerns from those other members. Additionally, it’s incredibly awkward to spend time in a space where tensions are high and fights are inevitable. Tensions between two members can make your generally easy-going or fun community feel much less welcoming. Finally, bottling up frustrations and irritations usually results in a blowup, which brings about much more drama, concern, and anxiety than would two members working through their disagreement in private.
ENCOURAGE A COOLING-OFF PERIOD
At the time of most World of Warcraft-related disagreements, emotions tend to run pretty high. For example, your biggest disagreements are likely to happen during a particularly frustrating raid night, or when discussing something highly volatile like class changes, proposed raid changes, or boss strategy changes, etc. Encourage members to step away and take some time to themselves to cool down before you begin asking them to resolve their dispute. If they are unable to disengage, you can time them out on Discord or globally mute for a period of time, but these options should be a last resort. Support your members in making smart choices for themselves before utilizing the mod powers to make those choices for them. Consider even stepping into chat for a moment to shift the focus of the discussion or even just inject a bit of positivity and levity into the conversation to allow the frustrated parties to take a break and walk away.
BE READY TO MEDIATE
If your attempts to redirect the conversation don’t work, and/or your members are uncomfortable with approaching their disagreement directly, it may be time for leadership to step in and act as a mediator. While our ultimate goal as leadership is to see our members work through their own disagreements without any officer intervention, that dream will not always be possible.
If at all possible, mediation should involve bringing both parties into a private Discord channel. A group DM is far less ideal, as tone is often incredibly difficult to interpret through raw text. Allow both people their time to talk, and remind the other member to listen respectfully. Do not allow interruptions, raised voices, or any sort of name-calling.
You may want to offer to act as a mediator for a disagreement that feels particularly difficult to work through, or for members who may need the extra confidence boost of having a trusted neutral party present. Remember to be compassionate and understanding if you are called upon to help mediate a disagreement. It might be disappointing or frustrating that the parties are unable to come to an agreement by themselves, but conflict resolution does not necessarily come naturally to many people! We all need to practice some of the tougher and more nuanced aspects of our interpersonal skills.
Being open and vulnerable is a scary thing, particularly in gaming spaces, which are notoriously cruel. However, I’m always encouraging guilds to move towards a more inclusive, welcoming, and respectful model of community management; part of this process is encouraging vulnerability and honesty amongst members (and amongst yourselves as leadership). When approaching a difficult situation, encourage your members to be open and honest about what sparked the disagreement for them.
Part of being honest is being honest enough with yourself to accept responsibility for your own actions. Both parties in a disagreement should be upfront about what made them frustrated, but they also need to be able to listen and recognize when they have caused hurt. Recognizing a mistake and owning up to it is an important part of healthy conflict resolution, and one that I think the World of Warcraft community struggles with a great deal. Acknowledging your part in a disagreement is a fundamental part of personal growth and development. Both parties should be able to hear each other out and acknowledge their mistakes or missteps in the development of the initial argument.
INTENT VS IMPACT
Remember that INTENT is very different from IMPACT. While the intent may not have been to cause hurt or convey disrespect, the impact of words or behavior on the other party may be very different. As adults, we all need to recognize that impact is the crucial aspect of a disagreement. We can certainly voice the intent behind our comment or behavior, but we also need to be empathetic enough to hear and understand how our behavior has impacted others. Part of being an open, honest human is being emotionally intelligent enough to accept responsibility for an impact we have left upon someone else.
I’m ashamed to admit that this concept took me quite a long time to learn and embrace. I have made many hurtful comments or mistakes that seriously impacted others, and struggled to accept my share of responsibility. I have left behind a truly awful impact on some people in my time as a GM, and for that I am both embarrassed and extremely remorseful. As leaders, it is our job to model this concept to our communities; it’s never very comfortable to look at your behavior and recognize when you have been toxic, but it’s imperative that we do so in order to encourage our members to do the same, and to push for positive change in the broader WoW community. We can’t change the past, but we can always improve ourselves moving forward – never be afraid to be accountable and reflect.
KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO QUIT
Unfortunately, not all disagreements are salvageable. Sometimes two members are unable to come to an agreement, or, more frequently, one person simply does not agree with or enjoy the general vibe of the guild. You may struggle with feelings of failure if you are not able to resolve an ongoing issue with a member of your community, but as long as you have done right by your community values and engaged honestly in conflict resolution efforts, try not to feel as if you have failed. Sometimes, people just aren’t the right fit for a community, and in those cases, it’s best for both the community and the individual that you part ways.
You will likely know when it’s time to throw in the towel and encourage the member(s) to walk away; if the conflict has persisted for more than a week with no positive change or compromise, if the conflict has begun to bleed over into affecting guild or raid morale, and/or if you and your officer team are stressed or exhausted from repeated attempts to mediate, it’s very likely that the upset member(s) are exhausted too. This is the point at which you need to have both parties agree to disagree and encourage one or both to step away from your guild; they may struggle or be sad to leave, and you may be just as sad to see them go, but remember that we must always make decisions that are net positives for our entire communities! You may want to offer to help them find a new place (if you have the energy and time to devote to such an effort), or offer to write them a recommendation (if you truly believe they are good eggs who will bring positives to another guild). However, be strong and do not cave to hurt feelings. Maintain your stance. When it is time to be done, it’s time to be done, and further hashing out will not produce anything even remotely positive or productive.
RECOGNIZE BAD ACTORS
I would always encourage leaders to view complaints and disagreements in good faith, at first. Assume good intent from your members until or unless they give you a reason not to. If someone frequently has complaints about multiple people, or files repeated complaints against one specific person, examine those complaints closely and learn to recognize when they seem less than honest. Even if the complainant is simply not a good personality fit and not an actual bad actor, it’s not healthy to continue permitting such a person to sow discord in your community. As we discuss in the previous section, it’s important to know when to throw in the towel and encourage a member to move on to a better-fitting guild.
Here are some factors that may signal a truly bad actor or bad fit for your team:
- Constantly involved in drama or disagreements
- Ongoing snarky comments towards others
- Instigates fights in tense situations
- Refuses to follow community rules or adhere to community values
- Know-it-all behavior or disrespect towards leadership OR other members
- Repeatedly files complaints against one or many other members
- Multiple complaints about them from other members
- Negative comments aimed at the community, members, leadership, and/or the guild as a whole
Whether you choose to allow a person like the above several opportunities to improve is up to you, but be aware of their impact upon the rest of your team, and be ready to direct them out the door if they persist in negatively affecting your guild. Do not exhaust yourself, your leadership team, or your community by attempting to engage in conflict resolution with someone who has shown they are not interested in returning that honest effort.
Conflict Between a Community Member and an Officer
When you approach a disagreement or complaint between a community member and a member of leadership, you must keep all of the previous concepts in mind. However, in disagreements involving a guild member and an officer, discomfort is only amplified by the power imbalance at work. No matter who is factually at fault in such a disagreement, it’s absolutely crucial that leadership allows the guild member space to be heard and voice their concerns. Do not ever discount them immediately because their grievance concerns another member of leadership instead of a fellow guildie. Far too often, I see guild masters brush aside concerns and complaints about officers without truly considering them or hearing them out fully, and this is a huge mistake. While loyalty and cohesion between members of the leadership team is important, displaying a single-minded loyalty to an officer above all else simply shows your community as a whole that you are not a leader who will act as a neutral party or listen to their concerns. Far too many guild leaders exhibit a shocking blind spot for their own officers’ misbehavior or negative qualities. Your guild will never be a truly safe space if you don’t insist that leadership take responsibility for their mistakes.
If you receive multiple complaints or concerns about a member of your leadership team, the answer should never be to blame the complainant, or disregard the concerns. Officers are just as capable of being bullies, if not moreso; people possessing more power can often feel threatened by any assumption that a “lower” member of the community is attempting to take that power, question that power, or otherwise devalue the role of the officer. It’s extremely important for you to recognize when you have an officer who is a bully, and put a stop to it immediately. You may want to try and confront them first, and encourage personal growth and change, but if the officer will not hear you and continues to deflect, ignore, deny, or react with anger, you need to protect your community and remove the offending officer. If your leadership cannot or will not protect your guild rules and values, you will never be able to maintain a community who does the same. Instead, you will find that those members who really adhere to your stated values will leave to find places that truly believe in them, and you will be left with those who are unbothered by a toxic space, or who have not been the targets of an officer’s bullying.
Officers are not infallible. While they may be extraordinarily trustworthy and work hard for the team, we are all only human. Do not operate as if your officers are exempt from this.
Conflict is a natural part of any interpersonal relationship, and will absolutely occur in every guild. However, unless you are facing frequent arguments, this is not a reflection upon yourself or your leadership. The best thing you can do for your guild is to encourage everyone to engage in healthy conflict resolution, and model that behavior by doing so yourself, as well as helping them to do the same in times of disagreement. Remember that many, if not most, people struggle with settling disagreements, and the gaming world has made it even more difficult to pursue good faith conflict resolution efforts. Be understanding and compassionate with your community as they learn how to have healthy disagreements. Help them to recognize when it’s time to step away and cool off, and when it’s time to approach the other person and start to come to an agreement. Help them realize the impact of resolving a conflict, encourage openness and honesty, and be ready to step in and mediate if the situation seems a little dicey. Most of all, understand and embrace intent vs impact, and motivate your players to do the same.
Not every guild works for every person, however, and that’s okay. As a leader, you should be ready to acknowledge when it’s time to cut your losses and move away from a member or members who are unable to find any common ground. Additionally, members who are bad actors, or entirely the wrong fit for your community, will only generate more disagreements and negativity.
Finally, and this is VERY important: recognize that your leadership team is not infallible, and be as neutral in complaints or disagreements involving officers as you are with those involving two community members. Your response to complaints about officers will show your team whether you are truly interested in upholding community values, or are only doing so when it suits your leadership. Cultivate your community’s trust in you as an unbiased leader. Do not handwave away poor behavior from your officers, but instead demand the same honesty and responsibility from them that you encourage in your guild members.
- Raider.IO Recruitment System
- Set up Raider.IO Discord Alerts
- Download the Raider.IO Client
- Follow Raider.IO on Twitter
- Join Raider.IO on Discord
- Support Raider.IO on Patreon
About the Author
Gogogadgetkat has been playing WoW since late BC, and has been the GM of her guild Propaganda since its creation in 2014. As a career healer, Kat has a number of CEs and old-school heroic kills under her belt, all on a variety of healing classes and specs—she’s a serial altoholic! In addition to Mythic raiding and a little Mythic+, creating safe, inclusive spaces in gaming is her longtime passion; Kat has been an admin for the Perky Pugs community since late BfA, and is also a founding council member and the community manager for the DEIBAJ initiative Liquid Women in Warcraft. She is excited to bring her wealth of experience and love of writing to the Raider.IO team.