This article was written by Chele on her RPG-D blog, I asked if I could repost it here because I think it’s got some really useful tips for GMs and moderators of roleplaying games who have to deal with difficult members, and how to handle problems correctly. You can see it’s original incarnation here. Chele is a moderator of the Interitus RPG.
When we get a problem with a member, it can usually lead us to going oh FFS! It’s a normal reaction, we would like everyone to get on, and for things to run smoothly with epic plots and interesting characters. When somebody disturbs the equilibrium of this by causing OOC drama, it can really tick us off.
However, in this case, the FFS approach does not stand for For F***s Sake, but instead Fair, Firm, Smart, and is a method for dealing with these issues from a staff point of view.
Everyone has seen the topics about staff having problems and how they should deal with it, and more, we have seen problems from a member’s perspective where a staff member has dealt with an issue badly. This method may not fix all your problems, but will certainly make sure that no person in their right mind could say you handled said situation badly. Sometimes, problems cannot be fixed without extreme measures (like banning,) but make sure you cannot handle a situation reasonably before you jump to swinging the hammer.
The FFS Approach
Whatever you do from here on in, no matter the consequences of the problem, you should always make sure that you are firstly fair to the member. People thinking that they have been wrongly or unfairly attacked is one of the main reason these topics come up on discussion forums like this one.
If it is a problem another member has brought to you, make sure you hear the accused’s side before you make any judgements. There is a reason there is a prosecution and a defence in a courtroom and both sides are heard before a jury reach a verdict. Outline the accusation in simple and straight forward language, and then let the member reply. Make sure they know exactly what they are accused of. Only once they have replied, decide on your course of action. 6-7 times out of 10, the member will have caused this problem without even realising, so by laying out the problem in a straight forward manner, without prejudice or blame will bring this mistake to the surface.
If it is a problem you have discovered/witnessed, try to keep your assumption of blame to a minimum. Give the member a chance to explain their actions, even if you think what they did is inexcusable no matter their reasoning. Again, most likely, this was a problem made by mistake or without thinking it would even be a problem, and therefore will apologise and ask how they can fix this issue without you even threatening punishments.
You can sometimes immediately see the intent of a person by their explanation to a situation, so let them give you that explanation. Only when you have all information from all sides should you think about any form of punishment.
Being firm does not mean you need to yell to make sure you are the loudest kid in the playground. If you have ever worked in a service/hospitality industry, you will know that being nasty/shouting will only mean that you anger the person you’re trying to get something out of. It is not the waitress’s fault that your steak is overcooked, or your potatoes raw, so why yell at them? Tell them in a polite but firm manner that you feel this is unacceptable, and would like something new. The kinder you are, the more likely people will want to help you, and the same is true of members.
Be firm when you have a problem. Do not ramble around the issue, apologising for mistakes or miscommunications. Be direct and use simple explanations. Keep your arguments to the point, and do not let opinion become part of the issue. It is not that you do not like their character, but that their character breaks ‘this’ rule. Therefore, do not bring your opinion on the character in to it.
Make it clear that this is your decision, and that this is not a situation that is open for discussion or debate. Of course, if it is up for discussion, let them know that you welcome their opinions, but that the decision will ultimately be with you and they must respect this decision.
Not everybody can write or speak with that authoritive tone of the boss, and you do not need to in order to get your feelings across. You do not need to use big words or fancy phrases. In fact, people who speak plainly but with conviction and good ideas will make a much bigger impact than those who use big words nobody understands and dance around the issue.
Try to keep your tone professional. When you have a problem, try to minimise the use of slang and never use swearwords. All you will do by using swearwords and slang is make yourself look angry, like you are responding without thinking about their position in this problem. The more angry you look, the more unreasonable you seem, and being unreasonable will only spiral a problem out of control.
If you feel yourself getting angry or upset over a situation, take a break! Do not reply to PMs about a problem while angry. Have you ever noticed that you say things you didn’t mean when you’re angry or upset? Or the words said what you wanted to say, but the other person took them the wrong way? Put the PM away and do something else, whether it is a couple of posts, some graphics, or stepping away from your computer all together. Let the information sink in and organise itself in your head.
Even if the member’s reply was angry and unfocussed, most likely there are some good points hidden within it, and upon first read, when we are getting worked up ourselves by their angry tone, we may not find the information we need to resolve the problem. By taking that break, our mind will continue to work through the problem at hand, so when we come back to it, we can be more level headed, and therefore, make better decisions.
It is not neccessary to have management experience to deal with people. You don’t need to be a bomb squad technition to diffuse a bad situation. Not all problems can be fixed. Some will, inevitably, end with a member leaving, being banned, or receiving punishment. However, by keeping your actions fair, firm and smart, you may not solve the problem, but you will certainly make a difference in the way people view your handling of it. If members know you are a good admin, they will be more accepting of things that do go wrong, because they know you know how to deal with it.
I hope people find this helpful.