The Risks of Anonymous Feedback

In one of the online forums I participate in, someone declared that feedback between peers must be anonymous. His rationale was that people won’t be honest without anonymity.

I have found that it is possible to be honest and not anonymous. 

I’ve also found that anonymous feedback backfires in number of ways:

People veer into judgement rather than information when they hide behind anonymity.  That’s seldom helpful.  An anonymous zinger doesn’t help. Nor does a value statement such as,  “you don’t pull your weight” or “you’re stingy with information.”

Unless feedback is very specific,  the receiver may not recognize (or even  remember) what the feedback giver refers to.  With anonymous feedback, there’s no way to follow up and ask for examples, understand impact, negotiate a better way to work together, or make amends, if that’s what is called for.

It is fairly normal for people to try to guess who gave a particular bit of anonymous feedback, especially if the feedback is critical, judgmental, or conflicts with the receiver’s self-perception. People often guess wrong, and that distorts and damages relationships.

The practice of anonymous feedback erodes trust in the group.  A feedback receiver may wonder, “If he had a problem with me, why didn’t he tell me…”  People become more cautious, engage in more protective behavior, and hide mistakes or issues.

Honest, congruent person-to-person feedback requires thought and skill. But it is worth the effort. and contributes to a more resilient, and humane culture.