What to Do when you get a Critical Email

critical email

Opening up an email that is nasty or critical feels like a punch in the stomach. We have all likely experienced a critical email. Many of us have gotten dozens of them. Over the years, I have learned several principles that will help you choose wisdom over foolishness. What should you do when you get a critical email or harsh text message? Slow down, take a deep breath, and implement these five principles that could save you a lot of pain.

1. Consider the Source.

Is the person that emailed you someone that you respect and would ask for advice? If the answer is no, then don’t allow this email to wreck you. Criticism from a wise friend is very different than criticism from a foolish or vindictive person. The truly wise┬ádon’t criticize in written communication. It is cowardly to initiate a conflict through an email. The mere fact that your criticism came through an email casts doubt on the wisdom of the one who sent it.

2. Consider what it is Behind the Criticism.

Before you decide to get angry at the person who has criticized you, look for opportunities to be compassionate. What might that person be feeling who lashed out at you? Are they hurting or afraid? Kindness toward this person will be much more effective than proving how wrong he is. When you get a critical email, look to show compassion and empathy even for your critic.

Also Read: The Dangerous Power of Online Messaging

3. Look to Learn.

Learning is a gift. Is there anything that you can learn from the criticism? It certainly doesn’t hurt to consider this. If 80 percent of the criticism is false, what can you learn from the 20% that might apply to you? Even a vindictive person can help me see areas of weakness.

4. Don’t EVER answer the Criticism with an Email!

No matter how tempted you are to fire off a defensive response, Don’t do it! Written messaging is the wrong format for conflict resolution. Consider instead one of these two responses:

  • For criticism that comes from a person that you don’t know well or have high respect for: “Thank you for your letter. I am always looking to grow and will certainly consider what you have written.” Don’t say anything more than this. Don’t answer the charges or try to defend yourself. Humbly acknowledge the criticism and move on.
  • For criticism that comes from a friend or close relationship: Pick up the phone and set up a face to face meeting. Escalating a conflict through email is unwise and destroys relationships. Get together and talk it out. People say things in email that they would never say to a person’s face.

5. Get Used to Criticism.

Unless you live alone in the mountains, there is no such thing as a life without criticism. If you are a leader of any sort, criticism will be constant. It will always sting a little when you are criticized, but the expectation that it is coming will reduce the shock and pain.

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Posted by Brian Howard

My focus is to help YOU move forward one step at a time. I write about church excellence, personal productivity, and family leadership. I coach leaders, start churches, and help organizations break growth barriers. My goal is to draw on this experience to help YOU move forward in life, leadership, and productivity.

  1. Thanks so much for posting this helpful advice. A related leadership question: I understand the different responses dictated by the level of relationship, which you mention in the article. However, how would you handle a continual stream of emails (1-2 per week) from a church member regarding a particular theological issue about which you, as a leader, and this person disagree? Let’s say the conversation has gone on for a couple of months and has included a face-to-face meeting. Even so, the individual continues to press the issue to the forefront via their emails and doesn’t seem satisfied with the answers you have provided.

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  2. This is so very practical. Everyone has experienced a nasty email. I think your first point is the best filter, and then move on from there.

    Reply

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