I was in a recent virtual meeting and experienced exactly why I really dislike anonymous feedback.

Let’s set the scene first.
At the end of the meeting, the request was prompted for each person to post a note indicating what reflections you had about the meeting (what have you noticed).

People (don’t know if everyone) posted a variety of notes in the online tool using anonymous access.  There were posts you would expect – wish we could be in person, etc.  There was also a few notes related to people talking over each other.  Let me be clear: I was super happy that this was raised.  What happens next is where this goes off the rails for me.  Nothing happened next – well, that’s not completely true.  Everyone read them.  However, there was no real discussion about the issues raised.  There was no healthy conflict about the issues raised.  There was no understanding of what really was happening and how.  We moved on to the next agenda item.

Now because I’m a self acknowledged accidental interrupter, I wanted to take ownership of this whether I was doing it or not.  What I chose to do was to reach out to someone in the meeting privately to request that if they observe me interrupting to please highlight this – as I’m trying.  This colleague without hesitation agreed and I felt like I could engage fully.

At the end of the next meeting, another post was highlighted that “less talking over”.  My thought was less but not gone, did I do it?  Again, no discussion.  No understanding.  No real way to move forward in a healthy collaborative way.

For the person(s) that posted this issue, this is not good for them either.  They are highlighting the issue.  They believe this should fix the issue except the person doing it may not be aware.  Only now there is a double issue – the talking over and now the ignoring of the issue.  So the person with the issue raised is frustrated that this is not being fixed and doesn’t want to bother anymore.

What I see from this pattern of conflict is never a healthy resolution. Reading a random note and causing action rarely works.  The delivery is passive aggressive in that although there is transparency (which I applaud), feedback works best when there is a feeling of investment on both parties to resolve the issue.  The unwillingness to also be transparent that this is how you feel about this behavior is problematic in the team becoming truly collaborative.  Now maybe there is a safety reason you feel you can’t own this feedback.  Again, the random note is not likely to achieve results and whatever is causing the safety issue needs to be addressed too.

In this case, I was willing to own anything and everything (because I know I have this problem).  However this time, I don’t think it was me causing the problem…but I don’t know.  And whomever was feeling like this – I want to reach out to help them so they can feel fully engaged – but I can’t, cause I don’t know who it was.  Plus I worry that this is an elephant left sitting in the room that may only grow; possibly have babies.  Sure – small now but if left unaddressed…who knows.

What I wish would have happened:
Not anonymous.  This would have led to difficult conversations about what was happening and how to truly resolve the issue.  Maybe between just two people.  Maybe as a whole group.  Some discussion where behaviors can truly adjust for the needs of everyone.

I have no doubt this team will figure it out but the experience reminded just how much anonymous data can be dangerous for a team dynamic.

What have your experienced with anonymous data?

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick is a leadership and organizational advisor. Her transformational leadership at all levels of an organization, ignites growth of leaders and high performing teams to deliver quality outcomes. Tricia has more than twenty years of experience in the software development industry. She is a highly-rated trainer, coach, facilitator and motivational keynote speaker. Beyond her extensive knowledge and skills, her biggest offering is inspiring people to believe anything is possible.

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