As a pastor, I grew to dislike email criticism.
And I use the word dislike, but hate might even be the right word. I grew to hate email criticism.
I was talking to a new leader once. He had received a scathing email from someone. It was one of his first. And it was a doozy. Hard hitting. No grace. No value recognized for anything the leader has accomplished. Just the blasting. He was having a hard time letting it go. It impacted his ability to lead. He was beginning to question himself. (Pastors are human.)
I dislike the kind of email criticism that causes that.
Please understand, I’m not opposed to criticism. Plus, I think critical thinking is NOT always criticism. I’ve posted about it before and talked about how we as leaders should process criticism.
I may even consider anonymous criticism. I always felt there was a reason someone remained anonymous. Granted, in full disclosure and only my opinion, most of the time it’s because a person is coward to not sign their name. But, sometimes there are valid reasons for anonymity.
So, I’m not anti-criticism.
I am, however, except in rare circumstances, anti email criticism in the local church. At least how I often saw it being used with pastors. (I jokingly say I save all my negative emails – in case the FBI ever needed them for evidence.)
7 reasons I dislike email criticism:
It’s impossible to communicate emotion properly in an email.
Criticism always has an emotion attached. Always. Email can be so easily misconstrued what the emotion actually is when it’s written and not verbal. It can sting more than it should. It can emphasize — or de-emphasize more than it’s intended. Facial expression is ignored. It’s impossible to correctly display emotion in written form. I hate that.
Email makes it too easy to fire back a response.
With little thought, the send button is too easy to find, so before a person thinks, before they have time to pray, and before anyone can strategically plan out their response, they can too easily respond angrily or in emotion.
Email leaves people hanging in suspicion.
Have you ever received an email criticism, then you email back a response; perhaps apologizing or explaining yourself, and then you wait? And you wait. And wait. You may have actually answered their concern, they are fully satisfied, but you are still wondering if your email was even received. You don’t know. It creates fear and suspicion and it’s unfair. I hate that.
Email makes it easy to hide.
With email a person can make their slam, hit the send button and run. It’s really that easy. In the early days of church revitalization, when change was hard, I even had someone once create a fake email account to criticize and then close them so I couldn’t respond. In the days of online correspondence and social media, a computer screen makes for one of the easiest hiding places on earth.
Email is never completely private.
It’s too easy to forward an email, isn’t it? Or, what about the famous blind copy email? Ever been the recipient of one of those? Email starts a paper trail for something where usually no trail is even needed. It never goes away and can be brought back months and years later to be used against someone. That doesn’t seem very grace-giving to me.
Email invites misunderstanding.
Email removes the person being able to sit and ask questions. Can you tell me what you meant by that statement? That’s very difficult with an email. “So, what I hear you saying…” is one of the best tricks of a good listener. That’s virtually impossible with email. Email easily pours and stirs muddy water.
Email can make a minor issue into a major issue.
The issue may be small, but the fact someone took the time to place it in writing often elevates it in a leader’s mind. Granted, it may be what the critic wants, but is that even fair? If we aren’t careful, emailed issues may become weightier than the attention they deserve. I’ve even know email bullies who use email to unfairly elevate their own personal agenda. (And, they sometimes type in all caps.) I hate when that happens.
Those are just a few reasons I’m not a fan of email criticism.
I understand, there are times when email is the only way you can reach someone. I’m addressing this specifically in the local church context, but I realize in larger churches, such as the one I served, you may not always have instant access to the pastor. I get that.
So, in those cases I’d probably also ask myself a few questions.
- Is the pastor the right (or the only person) I can speak to about my criticism.
- Does the criticism come from a personal preference or a Biblical issue?
- Is this representative or individual? In other words, are there more people who feel this way or is it probably just me?
- Am I the right one to bring forward the criticism?
So, here is some advice.
If it’s going to cause suspicion, if it’s likely to be misunderstood, or if people are involved in the criticism (which is pretty common in my experience), before you send the email think critically. Ask yourself if email really is the right method to offer the criticism. Frankly, ask if the criticism is even necessary in the grand scheme of things.