Constructive Criticism, What’s The Problem?
I was reading Rhii’s last post about how she felt guilty that something she said was followed by her raid leader’s resignation. Now, Rhii’s a gentle soul and I’d be shocked if she mustered the cruelty to say something so horrid that it would ruin someone’s raid leading confidence. A resignation following something she said was most likely coincidence. So that’s not what made me react. What made me react was her (seemingly) gingerly approach to constructive criticism.
(EDIT: After some clarifications from Rhii, it seems that I misinterpreted her approach to CC, which was in reality: “maybe my guild is going overboard with CC, only pointing out the bad calls and ignoring the good ones”. Which, since they’re a new guild, is sort of normal, they’re just trying to find the best communication style for them. But remember folks, be honest and help each other improve, but don’t forget to raise a glass to the good times! Work hard, party hard!)
Discomfort with constructive criticism is one that I see echoed quite a bit among bloggers and among many players I’ve shared raids with: constructive criticism is hard, it causes drama if you’re not super ultra careful, you need to be an adult to handle it…
Are us WoW players so terribly socially inept that the words Contructive Criticism need to be capitalized? Is it such a big deal that we need to warn people about it? That we need to debate the terms and conditions of our constructive criticism?
Constructive Criticism: It’s Everywhere
Remember back in the first grade? That one kid with overzealous parents who already had the curriculum mastered? How he or she would give you tricks like “line up your numbers when adding” and “sound out letters when you read them”?
That was constructive criticism! In the first grade! You didn’t need thick skin or eternal zen to take it, or if you were that kid, amazing social skills to give it, so why is it so hard now? Maybe children are better at constructive criticism than adults are after all.
Constructive Criticism: There are places where it should go without saying
Adults are really touchy about unsolicited advice. Bloggers often debate whether or not to give advice to struggling players in random 5 mans. I don’t believe in giving advice to people unless they ask for it, or unless it’ll make a difference in the instance outcome. (Low level instances are an exception since most players love tricks that make their lives easier.)
I find social raiding groups follow the same pattern as 5 man PuGs: advice or criticism is superfluous unless it’s solicited or involves a small change that will make a huge impact.
Now in a raid group that has killing bosses as efficiently as possible as its main focus… If someone were resistant to advice or constructive criticism, I’d wonder what they were doing here. I don’t think guild policies should even have lines saying “we rely on constructive criticism”. If you don’t want constructive criticism, if you’re not looking for all the help you can get from your teammates, you don’t belong in a progression focused raid group.
(Yes, I realize that constant pressure to improve can be tiring and I 100% support people who realize this and takes breaks when needed.)
Constructive Criticism: It’s NOT stating the obvious
Most of us are taught constructive criticism from kindergarden onwards. But maybe we’re not taught it properly since it seems like so many people have no idea what it is.
Let’s take “You’re standing in the fire“.
That’s not constructive criticism, that’s stating the obvious. In the heat of the moment, “MOVE INSERTNAMEHERE!” is far more helpful. After the moment, “remember to pay attention” is slightly better than “You’re standing in the fire”. Tips to improve situational awareness and reducing tunnel vision are real constructive criticism.
But really, if you die a lot to standing in the fire, you damn well know you stand in the fire and you’re already really annoyed about it. Someone stating WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW doesn’t fix matters much at all.
Constructive Criticism: It’s NOT harassment
I had a guildy once who used to narrate what he wanted every single person to do, all the time. I remember him in ToC, sending me a flood of whispers of where he wanted me stand, when and where he wanted me to move, which spells I should use and when. He’d healed, like, a raid once and was suddenly an expert. He was a nice guy outside of raids and instances, but he was unbearable to play with.
His interventions weren’t constructive criticism, they were harassment. He wasn’t correcting mistakes or helping anyone. He was attempting to micromanage because he didn’t trust his raid team. He was strongly disliked, not because we had thin skin, but because he was freaking annoying.
Constructive Criticism: It’s NOT abuse
One incident that lead to a /gquit of mine once involved a long term teammate freaking out on me, babbling on and on in unacceptable language about how I was overstepping my boundaries. It wasn’t about performance issues, but it was intended to be feedback on a project I had been asked to do for the guild. But it wasn’t constructive criticism, it was abuse.
Constructive criticism contains some sort of advice. His tirade had no advice, just a temper tantrum over god-knows-what. And even if did have advice, when the intent is to harm instead of help, the behaviour is abuse and not constructive criticism.
We’ve all met fellow players like that. Temper tantrum throwers who try to use the words “constructive criticism” to cover up. I think this is where the mental association between constructive criticism and drama comes from.
I’m a very blunt person myself, so I’m quite tolerant and forgiving of bluntness. But, I have no tolerance or forgiveness for abuse. It’s not about skin texture, it’s about having standards.
Constructive Criticism: You Don’t Need to be Tough to Take it
I have been using “thick/thin skin” throughout this post. I use the expression because it’s what everyone is familiar with. It’s totally ironic because I don’t believe that you need thick skin to take constructive criticism.
You need perspective, you need to have improvement as a goal and you need to be able to tell the difference between helpful and harmful. With those tools, you don’t need thick skin.
Ignore or avoid individuals with harmful intentions. Focus on improvement. Be clear about how you like to spoken to (for example, I’m very open to blunt feedback, but I don’t let anyone raise their voice or swear at me).
And, most importantly, know when to take a break. When feedback you’d normally welcome becomes a huge burden, it’s time to take a few days or a few weeks out of the ring.
Going back to Rhii’s post, I think that’s what her raid leader did: realize that it was time to take a break from crazy raid leading spotlight pressure. And I think Rhii and her guildies should keep encouraging each other to become better players by giving each other constructive criticism.
EDIT: The Sandwich Technique – I was writing about the Sandwich Technique in a comment and thought that maybe I should add a few lines about it to the main post. The Sandwich Technique for constructive criticism involves putting the “criticism” between two slices of “here’s what you’re doing right”. It’s really effective for taking the bite away from the negative points and makes the person receiving criticism more attentive to what you’re saying.