Three Problems with Anonymous Feedback

March 23rd 2018

Years ago, I heard someone say, “Any anonymous notes or feedback should be thrown away and not even considered. If someone doesn’t have the guts to put their name on it, disregard it.” Frankly, I was uncomfortable with that, and I still am. Sometimes people fear they’ll be rejected because of their feedback, and so won’t put their name on it. Does that mean their feedback doesn’t matter? I don’t think so.

So guess what I do when I receive anonymous feedback or comments? I throw it away. If it is intended for someone I work with, they never receive it, because I don’t bother passing it on. “Wait a minute…” you’re wondering. Didn’t I just say I was uncomfortable with what I’d heard about anonymous feedback? Yep – and I still feel that way. I don’t throw anonymous feedback away because of the whole “someone should have the guts to put their name on it!” reasoning. I’ve simply come to learn that anonymous feedback just isn’t helpful – in fact, it’s usually detrimental.

Here’s why.

  1. When we receive anonymous feedback, we don’t know who it’s from.

Yes, I’m stating the obvious, but it’s important to recognize this. We don’t know the context of the person who wrote it. We don’t know what experiences shaped their feedback. And so we end up assuming things about the person, most of which are probably false. For example, let’s say someone is critical of how a church handles check-in for children’s ministry, and they say so “anonymously.” We don’t know the ages of their children. We don’t even know if they have children. What is it about check-in that they don’t feel is working? We can’t even ask, because we don’t know who provided the feedback. So then we “assume” things and make tweaks based on our assumptions, having no idea if we assumed the right things. If the person had provided their name, we would know more about the situation, and what needs improvement.

  1. We can’t dialogue.

When someone writes one or two sentences (or even a full page) of feedback, it probably is not an exhaustive explanation of everything that person is experiencing. If we could have a conversation, we could truly discover more about the feedback and what we can learn from it. For example, if someone is critical of a video clip used during worship, it might be helpful to know that it was because it brought back painful childhood memories. That would help us understand the situation. But the anonymous comment, “That video clip made me uncomfortable” doesn’t allow us to have a dialogue to learn more about what’s really taking place.

  1. Credibility is tied to relationships.

If a stranger passing by on the street gave me the same advice as someone with whom I’ve had a close friendship since high school, I’m much more likely to listen the person with whom I have a relationship. They have credibility, because I know and trust them. But anonymous feedback has even less credibility than a stranger on the street – at least I can put a face on the stranger on the street! Anonymous feedback will always be the feedback of strangers, who don’t have much credibility (and rightly so).

Feedback can be great – in fact, it’s necessary for facilitating continued growth and development. I frequently solicit feedback from others, for the sake of seeing opportunities to improve! But I’ve learned over the years that anonymous feedback doesn’t actually help you improve anything – it’s just makes you a slave to strangers.

Jerod Walker began serving as a pastor at the age of 19 while in Bible college in rural Missouri. Since then he’s served in churches from 35 to 1800, as a children’s pastor, family ministries pastor, and lead pastor. In 2011 he started Legacy Christian Church in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Jerod currently serves as a ministry coach and resides in Wisconsin with his wife and 6 children.

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