Providing Constructive Criticism Without Being a Jerk

shadow priest versus the world

So you’ve decided you need to provide someone in your raid team with some constructive criticism. My first word of advice: put that thought on simmer on the back-burner for a while before doing so. Seriously. No matter how well-intentioned, “constructive feedback” given in the heat of the moment is rarely effective. Instead, take some time to think through what you have to say to the person, and how you’re going to say it. Here are some thoughts to guide you through that process.

First, Evaluate if You are the Right Person to Give the Feedback, and If It is Warranted

Once upon a time, I was filling in on a ToC25, healing on my shaman. An elemental shaman in our guild, mid-Jaraxus fight, started telling me everything I should be doing differently. On my alt. In the middle of a boss fight I was healing. This person was just another teammate. Not the raid leader. And I wasn’t failing either mind you– my shaman was 3 out of 5 healers, which I was pretty proud of given her limited play time that expansion and her crappy gear. This unsolicited criticism was ill timed, came from someone who had no business telling me what to do, and was directed at an alt that was actually doing just fine. This was a great example of how NOT to give constructive criticism.

In general, if someone is playing an alt to fill in for a role your raid needs, you should consider carefully how you give feedback. The player is less comfortable with that role generally, and is doing it as a favor to the raid. If you did want to help them boost their future performance, it would be appropriate, after the raid, to say “hey if you think you are going to be healing on your shaman a lot moving forward, I read a great blog post on healing you might be interested in.”

Make Sure You’re Providing an Expert Opinion, Not Just Your Opinion

Yup, that’s right. Holding the title of raid leader or guild leader does not, in fact, make you an expert in every class and spec. If you have a hunter who is struggling, have your guild’s best hunter talk to them. No one wants to hear someone who doesn’t play their class regurgitate a well-meaning blog post they read somewhere, and being told to “just do that.” Likewise, no one wants to be told how to improve by someone who uses another class/spec as their example for what to do. Each class and spec is different, and takes different finessing. If you don’t have an expert in your guild on that class, do some online homework: start with Elitist Jerks and from there fan out to class and spec-specific resources. If you’re not sure where to start, WoW Insider has a nice big list of WoW resources, including bloggers by class.

Praise Publicly, Coach Privately

This one should be obvious, but I have many times heard a raid leader berate a player and give them detailed instructions on how to improve in the middle of a raid, over vent. this is fail. How would you like it if your boss came up to you, in front of all your coworkers, to tell you you were doing a sucky job and should change X, Y and Z immediately? Yes, WoW is not a job, but the scenario still applies. No one wants to be taken to task in front of their peers. By doing that, it is unlikely that even good, well-intentioned advice will be heard by that player. Instead, they’ll remember how they got chewed out by that jerk (YOU) in front of their raid team.

Make Your Feedback Specific and Actionable

Bad Feedback: Your DPS sucks, improve or we kick you from the raid team.

Good Feedback: Elitist Jerks is modeling a player with your spec and gear level at about 2k DPS higher than we’re seeing you perform. I think we can do some fine tuning to your spec/gems/enchants/rotation to get you to where you need to be.

See what I did there? I gave specific feedback on what needs to be improved, and by how much, and laid out a possible check list to start with, and offered up a partnership with the person to help them improve.

Be Sure to Praise the Improvement

Once you give the feedback and support, and the person improves, you have one last constructive feedback task ahead of you: Praising the person for their improvement. This reinforces the change and shows the player that you are paying attention, and are aware of the efforts they made, and their progress. If you don’t say anything, the player can feel as though they wasted their time and efforts trying to meet your standards. It’s a small thing to do and doesn’t take much time, so make sure to acknoledge your teammate’s progress.

What Does it Take to be a Great Raid Leader?

the fact that this shadow priest is sitting in the big chair doesn't mean she's the raid leader

Leading raids is not my favorite task. I like to focus on playing and having a good time, while when in the role of raid leader I have to focus on what everyone else is doing. But somebody has to lead the raids to keep us all marching in the right direction. Which got me to thinking about what it takes to be a great raid leader.

It’s easiest to start with a list of the qualities that do not make for a great leader:

  • Unwilling to listen to feedback from others
  • Unable to objectively evaluate if the issue at hand is the strategy or the execution of the strategy
  • Not a team player in groups where they are not a leader
  • Desire to be raid leader driven by wanting to be in charge
  • Use of bullying and shouting down others to banish opposing view points
  • Prone to yelling over Vent/TeamSpeak/Mumble
  • Impatient; unclear that learning new fights takes time
  • Uncomfortable with giving constructive criticism or assigning necessary but not glamorous tasks to friends/relatives/significant others

 7 Habits of Bad Raid Leaders

  1. Yell “WIPE IT” whenever a strategy is not absolutely perfectly executed.
  2. Kick out raiders for making even tiny mistakes.
  3. Kick out the lowest DPS every half hour if you are not making progress.
  4. Force the entire raid to compensate for any areas of weakness your BFF or significant other has.
  5. Come to raids without knowing the strategy backwards and forwards (or without having it printed out and in hand to read to the team.)
  6. Change loot rules after seeing what loot has dropped or who has won it.
  7. Arbitrarily add new raid nights and change what content people are raiding and when, based upon what you feel like doing.

Raid Leaders Need to be Someone the Team Wants to Follow

The success of any team, be it in World of Warcraft or in real life, hinges upon the leader of that team earning the respect of the team, and being someone the team chooses to follow. People do not choose to follow people who rule the raid with an iron fist, belittling others and shouting down anyone who dares question — even privately– their proposed strategies or decisions. Those people are called tyrants or dictators, not chosen leaders.

So what does it take to be the kind of raid leader whose members will happily follow them to the ends of Azeroth? For starters, a good leader will:

  • Communicate clearly with the team. This includes coming to raids prepared, and with a strategy in mind. Ideally you will have shared that strategy with the team for input a few days prior to the raid. This allows folks to read it, and to ask questions or make suggestions based upon their experience and your group’s makeup. Be sure to assign specific people to specific tasks that need to be done, and ensure they are clear on what they are being asked to do.
  • Be ready to adjust strategies if they are not working as expected. That Tank Spot video you cribbed your strategy from probably doesn’t have the same class make-up or skill sets as your actual raid team; be ready to adapt as needed. This can include having to ask your friends or SO to step out if they are not fulfilling their role. This is a delicate area, for sure, but your team expects you to apply the same standards across the board.
  • Listen to team members and try to understand their POV. The fact that it is sometimes not your POV does not make it wrong. Try to understand where others are coming from. And if you don’t understand, ask questions that show you have been listening that will also help you better understand that person’s perspective.
  • Be approachable. Your team needs to feel it is OK to come to you with an issue or concern or an idea, without fear of retribution or receiving a dressing down.
  • Understand it’s not all about them. Raiding is a team effort. Yes, the raid leader herded those cats, but the glory is not all upon the raid leader’s shoulders — and likewise, neither are the disappointing defeats. Also, don’t take requests or comments personally. It’s not all about you. As an example, if someone asks you to please give them an equal dose of progression raids and farm nights, respect their request. Not everyone wants to go full tilt at progression targets every night of the week after coming home from a demanding job. This doesn’t make them a slacker. It is not a slap in your face. It is just someone else’s POV.
  • Discuss raid related issues and concerns, or strategy changes, in a professional, mature manner. On the Internet, all too often people take offense to — and wage war against– any opinion that is not in line with theirs. All I can say here is: GROW UP! In the course of your life, you are likely to meet many people who have different perspectives and opinions. They are entitled to them as you are entitled to yours. If you are incapable of being civil in discussions when you disagree with others, you are not cut out to be a leader.

I expect a lot from my raiding time. I expect to make progress against the goal of killing the boss upon whom we are working. I expect to have a good time, in a positive social atmosphere. I expect to have a sense of accomplishment and excitement when we kill a boss for the first time. I expect to feel like a valued and important member of a team. And if I don’t feel this way, I eventually lose interest in raiding with that team. The raid leader sets the tone of the raid and the standard of behavior for the team. Having a positive raid leader, who strives to be the kind of leader others want to follow is key to making these expectations come true. You know how it’s said that people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss? That’s frequently the case with raids too.

Food for thought. And this gives me a homework assignment: think through what a volunteer job description would be for an ideal raid leader.