The Cloak of Anonymity

A man in a suit stands looking at the camera with his arms crossed over his chest. His face is greyed out in an act of anonymity

Should feedback be gathered anonymously or not?

We often find ourselves having discussions with our clients about whether feedback should be gathered anonymously or not. Feedback can come from many stakeholders (such as clients, direct reports, managers, suppliers, or third-parties) and every forward-thinking organisation thrives on feedback – the good, the bad and the super-ugly – to help inform meaningful improvements. The million-dollar question is always: “will we receive better quality feedback if the respondents remain anonymous?” 

The Pro’s 

  • Reduced Bias: Anonymity helps to reduce potential bias in the feedback process. Respondents might be more candid and honest if they know their comments won’t be directly attributed to them, leading to more accurate and objective feedback. 
  • Greater Openness: Anonymity can encourage participants to express their true thoughts without fear of retribution or strained relationships. This enables recipients to gain a more accurate understanding of their strengths and development areas. 
  • Enhanced Psychological Safety: Anonymity can create a safer environment for both givers and receivers of feedback. Those giving feedback might be more willing to share constructive criticism or sensitive information without worrying about negative consequences. 
  • Fairness and Equality: Anonymising feedback can ensure that the process is fair and equal for everyone. It prevents favouritism or discrimination from influencing the feedback, as each participant’s input carries the same weight. 

The Con’s 

  • Loss of Context: Anonymity might result in the loss of valuable contextual information. Feedback without context can be harder for recipients to understand and act upon effectively. This can make it challenging to interpret the feedback accurately. 
  • Accountability Issues: When feedback is anonymous, recipients might find it difficult to seek clarification or follow up on specific points. Additionally, those giving feedback might not take ownership of their comments, leading to less accountability for the accuracy and appropriateness of their feedback. 
  • Reduced Relationship Building: Feedback is not just about performance improvement; it’s also an opportunity to build relationships and foster open communication. Anonymity could hinder relationship-building efforts as participants might not feel personally connected to the feedback process. 
  • Misuse of Anonymity: In some cases, anonymity can be misused by individuals who provide unconstructive or hurtful feedback. This can be detrimental to the recipient’s morale and self-esteem. 

Unfortunately there is never a straight-forward answer, because the decision depends on the goals of the feedback exercise, the context, the volume of feedback, the culture of the organisation and more.  

Ultimately, the decision to anonymise feedback or not should be made based on the specific goals of the feedback exercise. It is important to recognise that gathering feedback through a client survey is different from gathering feedback from employees – a balance should be struck between candidness and context, and an appropriate decision subsequently made. 

If you would like help making an appropriate decision, please do get in touch!

Recommended Posts