I think it should be a commandment to be preached in every church across the globe: do not send your criticism by email to your leaders, or to anyone for that matter. Just don’t. If you have something negative to say and you are absolutely convinced it has to be said, please be a man (or a woman) and deliver the bad news personally.
Because nothing, nothing is more discouraging than waking up the day after you’ve had a wonderful service, a really great small group or a fun teen night and discover that yet again someone had to spew their issues over the mail. That being said, if you are a leader, it’s gonna happen to you sooner or later. If it hasn’t yet, I’m honestly happy for you. If it has, join the club.
I have been there, believe me. I remember a Monday morning after a really wonderful youth service where teens were touched by God’s presence. Still full of all that God had done, I opened my email. Big mistake. The first mail I saw was a really angry one that basically stated I was a bad leader because there had been a glass of water left on the stage. No, seriously. One of the youth band had forgotten to take their glass of water and put it back in the kitchen. I can laugh about it now, but I sure couldn’t at that time.
My point is: as a leader, you are going to have to deal with criticism by mail at some point. And as you may have figured out already, an angry reply often leads to an all out mail war, which is really pointless. That’s why in this post I’m giving you four tips to deal with criticism delivered by mail.
Tip #1: Do not respond by replying
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction when I get an email full of criticism is to hit the reply button instantly. Oh, I can type almost as fast as I can think of a million things to say to, but I have learned to stop. Don’t respond. No matter what you write, even if you manage to keep it civil, it’s not going to effectively communicate your message. Because let’s face it, by responding you’re doing exactly what you don’t want the other to do: fight battles per mail. Make it a hard rule to never respond to criticism by mail by replying.
Tip #2: Wait at least 24 hours
Give yourself time to cool off, especially if the email has hurt you deeply. I’m one of those people who simply cannot think rationally when something like this has happened to me, so I need time to settle down and to start thinking instead of just feeling. Otherwise, I am tempted to respond out of anger, bitterness or hurt, and that never leads to any kind of reconciliation.
Tip #3: Pray
I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché of always talking to God about a person before you talk to that person about God. Well, the same goes here. You really need to pray before doing anything, responding in any way. Be sure to share your feelings with God, He’s not going to judge you for being angry or hurt or disappointed. David shouted his heart out many times in the Psalms and God could take it. He still can. Be honest to Him about what it has done to you. And then ask Him to give you whatever you need to solve this. Pray for wisdom. Pray for patience (I always pray this several times as patience really isn’t my strong suit…and that’s an understatement!). Pray for love. Pray for forgiveness. Pray until you find peace in your heart.
Tip #4: Always confront the sender personally
If you want people to learn to never use email for their criticism, you have to confront each person each time, no matter if it’s about something big or just a detail. Just make sure you do it in person, or over the phone if there’s no opportunity to meet with them. The word ‘confront’ might make you run in the other direction, but I’m not saying you need to get aggressive. But you do need to get your message across. The most effective way is to keep it close to home. Simply tell the other person what their email has done to you, how it has made you feel. Try to resist the temptation to start blaming them, but stick to the facts. It may go like this: ‘Listen Sue, the email you sent me Sunday telling me there were six typos in the handout made me feel unappreciated because I put a lot of effort in all the preparations.’ And don’t forget to stress that criticism by email is in general not the way to go.
You may have noticed that I didn’t discuss whether or not the criticism itself had merit. It’s really not important, it’s the method you object to here, not the content. The question what to do with criticism in general is another one, which you can ask as soon as the method of delivering that criticism is not by email, but in person.
Have you ever had mails like that? How did you handle it? Any other tips you’d like to share?