December 15, 2006
A district executive who was later called in says that using email let the
situation escalate out of control. "The person who started all of this used
words in her emails that she probably would not have used face-to-face. The use of email allowed name calling and other bad behavior to happen."
Email increasingly is a culprit, says the district executive, when
congregational conflict flares. "It allows situations to escalate to a much
higher level than they would normally."
Deborah Weiner, the Unitarian Universalist Association's director of
electronic communication, has advice for using email. "Email is great for
arranging meetings," she says, "but not for dealing with complex issues or
mediating disputes. Email can easily be misinterpreted because it's impossible
to show nuance. I've seen some truly cruel and mean things done with email."
Her recommendations: If you're responding to an emotional situation, let your
email sit overnight before sending it. Adopt a measured tone. Don't forward
emails of others without their permission. Remember that once you send an email
you lose all control of it; it can be copied, sent to others, and quoted out of
context even years later.
Every congregation should have rules about email, she says. "We can't live
without email these days, so we need to live with it. Using an email list is a
privilege, not a right. There is no first amendment right to destroy a
congregation with ill-considered emails. Don't assume that everyone knows how to
act appropriately on email. People don't all come from the same place. You need
to spell it out."
Other recommendations: Never say anything about someone in an email that you
wouldn't want that person to see. If someone wants to have an email conversation
about someone else or a complicated issue, invite them to meet with you in
Adds the district executive, "Every time I go into a congregation that's in
conflict the first thing I tell them is to stop the email. Get face-to-face in a
room and see the person you're talking to. It can be horrible to watch people
who care about their congregation tear each other apart with email. And every
time I say 'Stop the emails,' I hear an 'amen' chorus." Generally, she says,
small to midsize congregations have more difficulty with email than larger
Another congregation experienced problems with two church-sponsored email lists. One is for church announcements. The other is for open discussion.
A church leader explains: "The policy has been that anyone can post to the
announcements list, and some people abuse it by offering personal items for
sale. I wish we had restricted it to just having certain leaders post all the
announcements, but to go back and do that now would cause an uproar."
The leader adds, "People misuse the discussion list in ways that are hurtful.
They don't understand that humor comes across as sarcasm. Periodically things
flare up and people get upset then it dies down. I wish we didn't have this list
And sometimes people confuse the lists and post to the wrong one, the leader
says. "As a result, many members have chosen not to subscribe to the church
announcement list because they want to avoid hurtful emails. In essence, the
church has lost an effective tool for publicizing church news. I'd like to see a
church where people can discuss things face-to-face and be in relationship with
For more information contact interconnections @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Wednesday, September 14, 2011.
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