What’s Your Anonymous Criticism Policy?

I’m curious what you do with anonymous criticism as a leader.

I never really had an official policy of how I handle anonymous criticism, but I often felt I should establish one.

I realize that growth in any organization and just being in a position of leadership welcomes critics.  The larger the organizations I led grew, the more criticism I received. That’s natural.  A lot of it were unsigned critiques.

Throughout my career I’ve heard people debate what they do when they receive unsigned criticism.

Let me be honest, I don’t appreciate critics who won’t sign their name, but since it’s part of leadership, here’s how I usually react:

  • I listen to it (read the letter, email or comment) and if there is a forum to respond, such as with a blog post, I sometimes do. I try to still respond in love – even though I don’t feel like doing so at times.
  • I try not to figure out who the anonymous commenter is. I have found it is never helpful when I do and often causes me to hold unnecessary grudges.
  • I don’t give it as much weight to the criticism as when I can attach a real person to the criticism. If you want my full attention, sign your name.
  • I try to figure out if there’s a reason someone felt the need to be anonymous. Have I controlled the situation too much?  Have I become unapproachable? Do I stink?  (It’s never bad to consider hard questions about myself.)
  • I dismiss it quicker if I don’t feel it’s valid. Sorry, but Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous, it’s true. (I’m less likely to dismiss criticism quickly if there’s a real person attached.)
  • I try not to be the anonymous critic. If I don’t like to receive it, why dish it out to others?

I don’t think I have all the right answers. This is the just what has worked for me in leadership.

So, I’m curious, how do you respond to anonymous criticism as a leader?

  • Do you read it?
  • Do you ignore it?
  • Do you respond to it?
  • Do you take it personal?

And what should I do differently than what I currently do?

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Signed or not I think it is human nature to read it. In fact, unless you are one of those “read the end first” kind of people, you will end up reading it before you get to the unsigned part. I used to fret over them. Try to figure out who it was. Then I realized: they were cowards. I might read something but I refuse to give them traction. If they can’t address me as a man/pastor then I will not spend my time or energy giving credence to their words. will it bother me? Sure. I’m human. but then I have to allow to work in me. That often means chucking it and forgetting it. Fortunately, it has been quite awhile since I have received an anonymous note. (Funny: I’ll probably get one today). Thanks for the insight Ron.

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      Good thoughts, Bill. And I agree that you have to look to the end to know if it’s signed or not. And the human nature part. Not letting it impact you the same way though is huge.

  • Mark says:

    Sometimes people cannot sign their names out of fear and have to stay anonymous. The risk is just too high. I am thinking of kids who generally aren’t allowed to say anything so they might write a letter and not sign it or just put it on social media under a fake name.

  • Pastor Mike Kager Jr says:

    I do not read or respond to anonymous criticism. For me it is about peacemaking and resolution. We have enough in and outside of the church of people complaining but not desiring to work through things. Without a name there can be no resolution even if it means we agree to disagree.

  • Shambra says:

    Due to your second point, I think there should be an avenue for “unsigned” criticism or feedback. We are human and innately dislike criticism. However, it might be necessary feedback for self-reflection. The only thing I would do differently than what you mentioned is to look for themes to see if there are necessary changes that need to be made to thrive.

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I tend to agree. I always feel like – maybe it’s me that made them feel like they couldn’t say who they are OR maybe it’s them. Something in their “story” keeps them from public. They’ve ben injured before, afraid of conflict, etc. I do, however, weight it less “heavy” if I can’t discern either of those two and it appears they just want to “dump and run”.

  • Jonathan Jones says:

    If it’s not signed I will not read it. Without a signature it gives no credibility to the letter or criticism for me. I have never sent a criticism of anyone without signing it and standing behind what I have written. So I would expect that from those who send one to me.

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