Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Soothing the savage gamer

Two weeks ago (wow, time really does fly) I wrote about two of my favorite "crazy whisperers", people who are really good at defusing conflicts. Of course, every situation is different and what works for one person may not work for everyone. So this week I want to discuss a few general rules that I've seen work well when tempers start to rise.


But first, who the heck am I? And why am I talking about this? I'm a lifelong gamer and a perpetual game club and event organizer. Most of my gaming experience involves building and maintaining gaming communities. When I'm not rolling dice or shuffling cards, I spend a lot of my time teaching classes or doing research interviews and observations: getting people to talk about their experience with chronic illness or physical rehab. I'm not an expert, but I have a lot of experience helping people get comfortable and enjoy each other.


So here are my all time, desert island, top-five conflict resolution strategies:


1.Know the rules
It's easier for people to behave when they know what's acceptable. You can rely on the "unwritten rules", but nothing beats a short list of simple, easy-to-understand guidelines. Discuss them with your group, write them down and make sure everyone, new and old, gets a copy. Then everyone is literally on the same page.

In my last organized game group, our rules looked like this:
  • Treat everyone with respect and courtesy. If you don't feel respectful or courteous, then fake it.
  • Handle the games and furniture carefully. Ask permission before you handle another player's games and follow his instructions about the right way to handle them. Intentional or careless damage is unacceptable.
  • Everyone plays. If there's a spot at the table when you start a game, then look for someone to fill it.

2. Watch yourself
"Do as I say, not as I do," is not a viable strategy. It's easier to correct someone else's behavior if you're acting well yourself. Besides, if you have a reputation for good humor, fairness and generosity, people are more likely to listen to you when things get serious.

The bummer is that it's a lot easier to lose a good reputation than it is to build it. All it takes is one ill-timed outburst to cause irreparable damage.


3. When it's over, it's really over
Once you've dealt with a problem, move on. Carrying a grudge or rehashing old arguments just adds weight to any new problem that arises. The ability to forgive is a lot like a good reputation, people are more likely to change their behavior if they know you won't punish them for the rest of their lives.

I have a friend who's a master of this strategy. He can be brutal when he's dealing with a problem. I've even seen him tell a virtual stranger to "sit down and shut up!" And it worked! Because as soon as he had the chance, he sat down with her, established a rapport and had a real, heartfelt discussion. When they came back to the group, they each understood the other's perspective. And they had the beginnings of a real friendship.

This doesn't mean that "sit down and shut up!" will work for everyone. If you're going to take the first step, you've got be willing to to take all of the others. Or you're going to make the problem a lot worse than it already is.


4. Don't make it personal
I learned this one from my old boss, Mary. Whenever you can, focus on the behavior instead of the person. It's the difference between "stop being a jerk" and "that behavior is inappropriate." You'll have an easier time convincing someone to behave if they don't have to defend their honor.


5. Adjust Your Expectations
Before you enter a conflict, take a moment to decide what you want to get out of it. Do you want to resolve a bad situation? Or do you want your "enemy" realize his mistakes, fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness? Which one is more likely to actually happen? If your expectations are realistic, there's a much better chance you'll be happy with the results.
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