DeEtta Jones: “Why I Hate Anonymous Feedback: 5 Issues with Soliciting Feedback”

I am super thankful to see the posting “Why I Hate Anonymous Feedback: 5 Issues with Soliciting Feedback” from brilliant DeEtta Jones! In the posting, she writes about issues with the ways organizations solicit feedback, and shares a link to this site for pros/cons of anonymous feedback (which recommends a balance of both attributed and not attributed). For listing the 5 issues, the one on anonymous is:

4. Anonymous

Anonymous feedback involves creating systems for asking people to share feedback without identifying themselves. Often people advocate for anonymous feedback because of fear of retribution for sharing information that’s critical or negative. So while I get and appreciate that perspective, I just don’t see it working well. Think Twitter.

The purpose of soliciting feedback is to help inform future behavior. Anonymous input typically shares past information, and it’s only interpreted by the individual who’s receiving it. It doesn’t allow for an understanding of the desired future behavior going forward. Nor does it allow the recipient to have the full meaning that comes from talking with the other person or persons with the goal of clarifying and gaining a deeper understanding of my behavior, the impact of my behavior, and what the desired alternative future behaviors are. I may have some ideas that I can extrapolate from based on what’s shared with me, but it’s all pure speculation without the ability to actually go to the source.

There are also many times when anonymous feedback is used as the default feedback mechanism. Sometimes we actually need to sit face to face, awkwardly, but with our full humanity present, and have those tough conversations. These experiences are not easy, but they promote growth–individually and together.

Finally, anonymous feedback is contrary to what leaders and managers should actually be nurturing in their teams and in their organizations. Your role is to create space where talking with each other in the service of learning, transparency, and inclusion are modeled, practiced, expected, and rewarded.

I am sharing this full section because I fully support the goals for anonymous feedback for encouraging more people to speak and to feel protected from fear for doing so; however, I completely agree with DeEtta Jones in that it doesn’t work well. I’ve seen anonymous feedback not be really anonymous and seen that hurt folks. While not the same thing as a feedback solicitation process, I’ve seen external anonymous attacks, and deeply appreciate that many unions bargain to prevent anonymous feedback from being used against people. I also want to build cultures of trust and security where people can speak up and have the opportunity for the uncomfortable moments that allow us to productively grow together, with kindness and compassion. I also want to build towards radical optimism (following visionary Dr. Schuyler Espirit’s definition) and want to start from a place of how can we improve, rather than from problems and deficits (and I want to address the problems, which is most effectively done in systems designed for success and accountability).

I know, respect, and love many folks who are in full support of anonymous feedback. I agree with their reasons, but disagree with the outcome of supporting anonymous feedback. I am thankful that this is an ongoing conversation, and extremely thankful that more workplaces and organizations are learning to embrace more ways of communicating, and I am hoping for grace for all of us as we all learn and improve together.