I just read a thoughtful post by Erin Wathen over at Patheos.com entitled “The New Anonymous”. She was actually responding to an earlier and equally helpful post by Matt Rosine on his blog Mosaic: Stop Writing Anonymous Letters and Stop Reading Them Too. Whether the anonymous criticism comes written on paper or across cyberspace, it can be hurtful. It is typically mean spirited, though the author likely considers themselves writing out of genuine concern, and perhaps even in “Christian Love”. I have found that some people are even willing to own their criticisms as they send them, whether privately or publicly. These people may even be claiming scriptural justification for their actions, quoting things like “…speaking the truth in love…” from Paul’s letter (Ephesians 4:15).
While I agree that we should not react to such messages, I do not agree that we should refuse to read them or ignore them once read. The critique is carrying several messages, which can be helpful to the leader, even if no direct response is offered. If we as leaders are going to step into those troubled and troubling waters, then we need to prepare ourselves adequately for what comes.
Leading with strength requires that we not respond from a place of anxiety. This can be difficult, particularly under such pressure as these messages carry. Being non-anxious, or more accurately “less anxious” is a primary focus of Family Systems Theory.
Once we have the insight, we still need some technique. That is where Crucial Conversations from VitalSmarts becomes very useful. This resource gives us additional insights for how to remain in conversation with people when we find this difficult. The book then gives specific steps for what to do and why. It is filled with examples of practical application. The digital version also includes links to online resources including videos.
Knowing what to do, and being able to do it, are two entirely different things. Many clergy and other leaders experience peer learning groups and supervision wherein they practiced an Action/Reflection model of training and formation. After these periods of formal training, many leaders have little or no opportunity for ongoing support in their development. Working with a coach, mentor or peer group on these principles can help develop the insights and grace to remain connected while differentiated. Gather a group of peers, in person or online, and support one another in this shared journey toward maturity and wholeness. Working with a trained mentor, facilitator and coach can be a great enhancement to this experience. Contact me if you would like to explore some options and would like help forming a group.