Thursday, June 14, 2012

Communication is Key

Okay, so, I'm going to rant.  I know I probably shouldn't, but what's posting once a week on a local blog about LARPing for if not for the occasional venting session?  I will try to make it a little useful, since I think the situation also illustrates some important do's & don't's in communication that apply easily to a hobby situation at LARP.

Here's the story, which you could skip and just skim the main points below :)  For my Hubatron's 30th this year, I wanted to get him something really awesome.  I remembered a leather cowl we'd seen, and ordered it about 5-6 weeks out.  No problem, they said, we're starting work now and it should be there soon.  Great!  It should make it for his birthday!  2 weeks passed, and the birthday, but I'd ordered it hoping to make it to his party later, and there was still time.  I tracked them down - no problem, they said, it will be there!  The week of the party came, and I hadn't heard a thing.  After a few emails and calls, I finally heard from them and they said they had some troubles, and would ship it overnight with a free apology gift and confirm with me in the next 2 days.  Again, nothing. I waited, and tried them again.  And again, after multiple calls and emails, I got a hold of them and asked if they could at least send it in time for the event he was going to in 2 weeks.  No problem, they said, we are so sorry, they said, it should be there.  As you can guess, it didn't arrive.  Only this time I had to tell him what it was so he didn't make himself a new cloth version.  At this point, not only was my triumphant gift late, now it was spoiled.  So sad. :( Again with the tracking them down, and so on, and again they assured me it would be there soon.

Of course, it didn't come.  And despite trying to get a hold of them, they've never returned my calls or emails since.  And I swear, I wasn't crazy mean or anything!!  :)  So now, here I am, present-less, and trying to think of what I can learn from the whole thing that might be useful. So here goes.

-Tell it Straight - I worked customer service, and it's a crummy job, and I don't like applying it to a volunteer situation.  But one thing I know is that you should still be courteous - and to under-promise but over-deliver.  I don't mean lie, I mean set up realistic expectations.  If you are running a game, don't promise your players things you aren't sure you can deliver on.  This goes for players too.  If you're making something for someone, or offering other help, be honest about what they can expect.  Even if it's just that you aren't sure you can make it to the game - if plot is running something around your character, it's good to let them know to have back-up ideas.  Even if you really think you can do X, take a minute to think about it before you set something in stone, and maybe build in a little wiggle room if you're not 100%.  You don't have to divulge every uncertainty, but let people know in advance that they may need alternatives if that's the case, and give plenty of notice so people can plan.  I think it's very easy to forget that other people are planning around you when you're in the middle of things.  LARPing is what we do to have fun on our free weekends, so people may be basing their good time on your help! :)

-Keep Up to Date - Things change, problems come up, and drama happens.  I feel bad that it might have happened to the company I ordered with. :(  And if they'd just let me know, I wouldn't feel so frustrated.  When things do come up, let people know.  Don't make them track you down, that just makes everyone more frustrated.  Even if it's not good news, most people would rather just know so they can adjust their plans.  So the sooner you know you have to cancel that event, or that you can't NPC as promised, the sooner you should send that email to tell people, if you can.  If you don't have time, or aren't up for it because of the situation, try to have someone else do it for you if needed.

-Be Clear - I have to take some of the blame for my situation, because I should have pushed to have things laid out from the start.  When you're communicating, make sure you are as clear as possible with the details.  Say what exactly you're looking for (this goes for props, plot requests, anything), any rewards desired/offered, any time limit you have, and so on.  It is hard, because we are all volunteers, and we need all the help we can get!  But if you need that one prop to look a certain way, or if you aren't okay with donating something with an uncertain reward, then set it up.  Be nice about it, but try not to leave room for misinterpretation that could lead to frustration.

I should also say that, in regards to my above rant-story, I didn't ever pay, so I'm not in too bad a spot :)  Even so, I'm not sure what to do.  Should I wait and still hope that it'll come, or go get something else and risk it coming and having to pay for both?  Make sure if you do get into a sticky situation to lay it out as well as you can so everyone knows what they need to do with whatever fallout there may be.

-Consider an Apology - Like I said, things happen, and sometimes they're not anyone's fault, so not every situation needs a big apology, or any at all.  But if it's appropriate, think about how you could make up for a mistake.  Maybe it's some kind of goblin reward, maybe it's making an extra set of claws, maybe it's offering to do extra NPC time.  Or just saying you're sorry :)  Just make sure you can follow the first point here.  Most times you don't have to do anything extra, but if you offer it, it does make it worse to be told you'll get something more and then not get that either.

Although, I admit, that cowl is beautiful and I still really want it for him :)  All us LARPers are usually willing to forgive any mistakes that are made so we can get back to doing what we enjoy - we should just remember to be courteous in cleaning things up so that no bridges are burned.

Okay, there you have it!  What communications tips do you have?

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