Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blunt Feedback

I've had a couple posts brewing in my mind for a while now, all centered around my server/guild switch when WotLK came out, my personal switch from being raid leader to worker-bee, switching from regularly being top one or two in DPS to being anywhere from #1 to #12 depending upon if I sneezed during heroism or who nerfed what this week, and a whole host of cultural changes that come with the experience.

Reading a post over at Big Bear Butt inspired me to try to get one of the posts out onto e-paper. Read BBB's original, because as always its a good one. To paraphrase...he expects people in game to interact with other people the same way as they'd interact face-to-face. IRL, there's consequences in the form of knuckle sandwiches if you break the social rules of rudeness/offensiveness/whatever-ness. He's a US Marine, therefore, likely to receive a fair bit of well-deserved respect IRL (unfortunately probably out of fear of receiving a thumping, rather than out of respect for helping defend our country and freedom, but I digress).

Communicates Well With Others

One of the things that always strikes me in-game is how people give feedback to another player regarding behavior they'd like to see change.

Consider an example...Player A pugs with Hunter B. PA inspects HB and sees a variety of +strength gear. PA would like that behavior to change, since he has some information about the mechanics of the Hunter class.

How does the average Player A in WoW convey this information?

Response A) - I noticed you are wearing some [bad-stat] gear. I'm not sure if you are aware of it or not, but [bad-stat] provides very little benefit for your class, you'd be better off with [good-stat] or [good-stat]. To learn more, a good resource is[Class].

Response B) - dude, [bad-stat] sux. you should get more [good-stat] or [good-stat].

Response C) - fail [class] is fail. l2p noob, ur g@y

Ok, so lets take a look at the available options:

ResponseProsConsLiklihood in WoW
A Treats the person with respect. Focuses on facts and/or behavior, not personal traits. Shares some info, and also a place to go to learn more. Wordy, long to type. Player B might not absorb everything being said. Near to Zero
B Succinct, quick to type. Focuses on facts and/or behavior, not personal traits. Provides fish, but does not teach how to fish. Without supporting information, no way to tell if Player A is informed/uninformed, right/wrong. 10-15%
C Very compact, easy to type using abbreviations. Provides no constructive feedback to Player B such that he/she might improve. Includes personal insults and derogatory language. Damn near all the time

What works best?

Ok, so A,B,C are some what exaggerated to prove a point. C is most likely to be found in PuGs and on /trade channel. A is best if you have a high bandwidth communication channel such as Vent or even better face-to-face where you can include the extremely high bandwidth non-verbal communication of facial expression and body language. B works reasonably via text, if the person is interested in change they can ask for followup, and if not, there's no insult or harm done.

The transition from my old guild to my new one was full of uncertainty regarding delivery of feedback.

I'd heard so many horror stories of hardcore raiding guilds and raid leaders who scream at or belittle people as their way of providing feedback.

I'm a big fan of leadership, both in the theoretical world of academia and literature, as well as practical applications of leadership as a manager at work, in emergency fire situations as a volunteer firefighter, captain of inter-scholastic sports and academic teams (nerd jock, ftw), or as a Raider/Raid Leader.

As such, I was very curious to see what style of feedback would be given in the new guild, and what my reaction would be. As much of a fan as I am of leadership, I also have a massive problem with authority, especially if the powers-that-be are abusive.

Blunt and Focused on Behavior

The heading says it all.

What I've seen so far in Conquest is blunt. The Response A given above is pretty much non-existent. Pleasantries or other fluff is basically absent in either text or voice feedback.

When you die in the fire, you'll either be asked why you died in the fire, right then and there during a post-wipe analysis.

If you're bringing sub-par threat, you'll be called on it.

If your healing assignments are dying, and the officers can figure out that your assignments aren't doing stupid stuff like standing in fire, you'll be called on it.

If Tenebron doesn't die before his second set of whelps spawns, underperforming DPS players will be called on it.

No pleasantries. No fluff.

However, the key to success is keeping the feedback focused on behavior.

"Player X, you died in the fire. Stop doing that."....

is very different from...

"Player X, you died in the fire. You suck".

Sure, among friends, telling eachother "you suck" is fine. However, in a raid environment, not everybody is close friends. Many of the 25 are there simply to accomplish a difficult (or not so difficult, depending upon your thoughts of how hard WotLK raiding is, so far) task together. Friendship grows in pockets, but it'd be a stretch to call all 30 or so raiders "friends".

Feedback focused on behavior allows the recipients to make desired changes without feeling personally insulted.

Dish it out, and take it as well

The next part that actually makes it work, IMO, is that the officers providing the feedback do not treat themselves as perfect.

Classic was a night trying to kill Sartharion + Three Drakes.

Very hard fight. Very long night (25 wipes, followed by a successful kill). Silly wipes due to void zones or fire walls become increasingly frustrating as the night goes along.

So the Raid Leader reaches, not quite a breaking point, but definitely a point at which the frustration is boiling in his voice.

He lets the raid have it in very blunt un-ambiguous terms that it is unacceptable to die in the fire, and deaths due to fire are the single barrier preventing us from success.

The very next attempt, he himself dies in the fire.

And during the post-wipe analysis, gives it to himself just as directly and bluntly as he gave it to the raid.

More attempts, fewer deaths in the fire, finally resulting in looting a boss in one of the hardest encounters in the game.

The key to the blunt feedback...and this is a recurring theme here...nothing personal. It is focused on observed behaviors, documentable facts (recount/wws data), and avoids personal insult. Note, that does not mean it avoids placing personal accountability on a specific individual when they die in the fire. Die in the fire and you'll get called out by name. However, the feedback is focused on the behavior, which is something you can change.

What's your experience?

How do you like to receive feedback?

How do you give feedback?

What's the norm for your guild? PuGs?


Amava said...

Why does my blogger template put massive whitespace around any html tables that I use?

Anonymous said...

Fail table is fail, l2template n00b.

Just kidding, I don't know why.

My guild is the very picture of casual, so the minute someone got all serious and blunt and didn't bother with the pleasantries, I'd be ... well, I'm an officer. I'd gkick, lol. Not really, but it's just impossible to imagine in my group, because it flat-out doesn't happen. Our motto tends to be "Progression....eventually. Maybe when some healers log on." In that kind of an environment, bluntness (not to mention flat-out rudeness) isn't welcome. We're just trying to have fun.

When vent is involved, I can't imagine any excuse for not being marginally polite. It takes so little extra time to be diplomatic, and goes a long way in making people feel secure. Not having the "I type slowly" excuse completely invalidates any
argument for bluntness.


P.S. I acknowledge that the fundamental differences between casual and hardcore do allow for some differences in approach. I still think that "more flies with honey than with vinegar blah blah blah" matters.

Daxenos said...

Yeah, but who wants flies?

Amava said...

mmmm, flies

I fail at html :-( Actually, I pwn html but fail at motivation to do a damn thing about it, which is probably worse.

There's probably a big difference in feedback delivery depending upon the culture of the group the personal styles of the giver & receiver of the feedback.

I know that the style used in the raids I'm in now differs greatly from the style I provided when I was the raid leader in my old guild. Neither is better or worse than the other, and I'm always curious to learn more about how different people do it.