The Curse of Anonymous Feedback

“Et tu, Brute?” -William Shakespeare

Best selling business book author, Ken Blanchard often says that, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” It is the fuel that provides us with information that helps redirect our efforts, driving us to become the best we can at a given skill or task.Anonymous Feedback

Motivational research clearly shows that constructive feedback is a gift, and helps increase passion for our responsibilities—at work and at play. Thoughtful, well-intentioned, and timely feedback provides individuals with critical input into the adjustments we need to make as self leaders.

While feedback can be a gift, there can be a dark side to feedback that should be avoided at all costs within organizations and teams. The curse of anonymous feedback can have the opposite effect of constructive feedback, serving as a destructive force to positive change.

One of the most difficult and demotivating forms of feedback we can receive in the workplace is the type of information that creeps into our minds under cloak and dagger. The email or instant message sent to a third party, which in turn is sent to a manager or colleague, in hopes of making a person aware of some abstract dissatisfaction with a person’s performance or personality, is a difficult and sometimes dangerous form of communication.

The primary problem with anonymous feedback is that it lacks direct and clear feedback. In the three degrees (sometimes more) of separation from the author’s lips to the recipient’s ears, is a deep canyon of incomplete information and perceptions that may dilute the meaning of potentially helpful feedback—regardless of how accurate the feedback really is.

Secondarily, anonymous feedback is demotivating for teams and individuals, because it has a tendency to keep important and potentially creative conflicts off of the table of resolution and sets them adrift into a valley of disillusion. There is no proper path to resolutions. The more organizations and leaders are afraid of conflict, and don’t address it head on, the less opportunity they create for themselves to use that conflict as a creative driving force to better solutions.

When serving up a hot dish of feedback at work, or at home, take the time to overcome any assumptions you may have about giving the feedback. Season the feedback with your best assumptions about the person you are giving the feedback to. Be direct and clear and keep an open mind and ear for potential solutions or ideas to help make the learning process more efficient and effective.

Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

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  • Comments (4)
    • Matt Emge
    • April 27th, 2011

    This leaves me with a question. What should I do if I think someone really needs to hear my feedback but this person has too big of an ego to hear it from me? Who am I to speak against the king?

    The classical model is to speak to someone within this person’s confidence, a mediator. For reasons of status or pride, you can’t speak directly so you find someone who can, someone willing to carry your cause forward. The source remains anonymous, but the message is delivered without threatening the relationship or your life (job security).

    On the other side of the coin, as carelessly as anonymous feedback may be delivered, it can be terribly useful. If we aren’t in touch with the perceptions of others, our self-confidence may be a self-perpetuated delusion. In Henry V, the king disguised himself and mingled among the commoners so he could hear their raw, honest, open opinions of him. Before moving forward with his campaign, he needed to know what they were really thinking. For someone of us, anonymous feedback may be the only way to hear what people really think. And if you’re kind of person who gets anonymous feedback, maybe you need to learn how to listen to others less like a proud king and more like a common man with common faults.

  1. Matt,

    Thanks for you input/feedback. I’m glad you put your name to it and didn’t submit your comments anonymously. [insert smile].

    You ask very good questions up front, in your comment. However, given your detailed response, complete with impressive references of the great Shakespeare, I would assume that in reading through the rest of your comments, the original questions around the fear of giving direct feedback, were rhetorical?

    In essence, I believe the article does touch on some of your observations—feedback, good direct feedback, or anonymous feedback, can be used of equal value by any person truly seeking wisdom in their pursuit of getting better at what they do, while becoming a better person, regardless of the intent of the feedback or the medium in which it is delivered.

    However, your point raises some good issues that many organizations naturally deal with for a variety of reasons. Which of course is why The Ken Blanchard Companies has spent years researching and developing solutions to organizations collective and individual conflicts, such as the one your bring up in your response.

    If your questions are not rhetorical, I would suggest that if there is a fear of giving someone feedback to a person who is in a position of power, or a person who has an overinflated idea about their own self worth, the individual giving the feedback needs to first examine some of their own assumptions that they may have about the person they’d like to give the feedback on.

    Will they really loose their job if the address these issues directly? Is the person’s ego really too big to give the feedback directly too? Is mediation an option? Have I exhausted all my potential leadership training and or people skills to address my concerns? Are my own ego and insecurities in the way by giving anonymous feedback to an individual through a third party?

    By challenging our own assumed constraints about others, and assuming the best intentions with the people we work with, as well as the security of working in an organizations that sees conflict as a creative force to become perform at a Higher Level (why else would we be working for them), we can begin the process of moving forward toward helpful resolutions, rather than assumptions or perceptions that may or may not be true. A good common self leader will examine their own common assumptions about the situation and the people they work with, before tapping into other points of power to deliver a message that may be better served directly.

    I have more to say about King Henry, and his wise approach to going out and hearing directly from the people, their thoughts of him, however, I’m afraid I’ve already written another full article in response to your thoughtful comments.

    Thank you for your insightful comments and of course, your direct feedback.

    Jason

  2. Great topic to write about Jason. In my experience as a leader I’ve found that people who want to give feedback anonymously tend to be conflict avoiders or passive/agressive in the way they handle conflict.

    Employees used to come to me to give feedback (aka complain) about someone, ask me to address it, but tell me not to let the person know who gave the feedback. That essentially handcuffs the leader from doing anything about the situation. I’ve started telling people that if they aren’t willing to put their name to the feedback, then all they’re doing is complaining and I’m not interested in hearing it.

    • Thanks for the comments, Randy. The other upside to addressing it directly, or even with a third party, is that it offerds the opportunity to actually resolve the issue. In the case with Tim Tebow, what amazes me is that he isn’t even a starting quarterback. Anomymous feedback tends to turn into gossip, even if some of the complaints or feedback about the individual are in question.

      Great to hear from you!

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