Receiving feedback can be a touchy subject. We all know it is necessary for us to grow and develop mastery skills. However, we often receive useless criticism that leaves us feeling ineffective and incompetent. The “good intention” of feedback seldom leaves us with a clear understanding on where, what or how we need to develop. In the work environment feedback, appraisal reviews and team assessments can have an extremely negative connotation. Some companies introduced the 360-degree anonymous feedback survey where superiors, peers and team members rate an employee on their work performance. The collated feedback is then presented to the employee with the intention of providing fair, objective feedback on their work. But is it fair and is the anonymous feedback of value to the employee? Recently after reading Kahn’s book “Coaching on the Axis”, a new aspect came to light for me with something regarded as common business practice that was put into question. Kahn said that anonymous feedback is more destructive to the employee and team relationships than anticipated. His key reasons are summarised below:
- The feedback is out of context because no objective examples or situations are provided. This makes the feedback subjective and the person receiving the feedback has no clear reference point for their respective score.
- People naturally try to decipher who said what about them. This psychological, albeit unconscious, process impacts on the team relationship, and if this is not enough, the relationship becomes extremely tense when one figures out from whom the feedback has come. The receiver may not confront the giver because the survey was anonymous and they might be mistaken with their assumption. Nevertheless, below-the-surface tension develops in the team relationship.
- In 1996 Antonioni proved that anonymous feedback means the person giving the feedback may not reflect over their feedback provided. This results in them not applying themselves to the level they should.
- In the end, a coach might be used to collate, analyse and share the feedback with the person. This can unintentionally place additional strain on the coaching relationship because the client will wonder if the coach is sharing everything. Furthermore, the coach might be aware of who said what and has to refrain from sharing this knowledge. Trust is likely to be tarnished which is detrimental to the coaching process, success and relationship.
- Lastly, anonymous feedback could be used as a hidden safe agenda to get back at a colleague. Nobody can prove it but there might be a malicious attempt to bully a colleague.
Feedback is important but perhaps we should opt for open feedback where the comments provided can be discussed. Open and transparent feedback creates lasting impetus and change because the person can place the comments into context. Meaning can be placed on “what” is being said both from a content and intent perspective. This often alleviates the norm of feeling criticised and/or victimised. The person providing the feedback has to apply their mind and focus on the message intended versus haphazardly circling an assessment score. Open and transparent feedback proves valuable information that enables a person to grow and develop whilst preserving work relationships and trust.