Photo by Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix)
A few weeks ago I attended a 3-day seminar dealing with positive psychology. Even though I was familiar with most of the research and concepts presented there, I learned a few new ideas that have interesting implications. One of these is the idea of active acceptance which means that instead of fighting our feelings and trying to hide them (what we usually do automatically) we need to accept them as they are and think about their implications and reasons.
This, together with other research I have been reading lately, prompted me to think about feedback generally and about anonymous feedback specifically. Many companies pride themselves on having 360 degrees anonymous feedback. “Everybody in our company receives feedback from everybody else without anybody needing to fear the consequences” they report proudly. And while I love the idea of 360, the idea of anonymous just seems ridiculous to me. Susan Scott expresses this best in her book Fierce Leadership. In a chapter titled: “From 360-degree anonymous feedback to ‘365’ face-to-face feedback” she writes, after surveying the definition of the word anonymous, this:
In what universe would anonymous feedback, anonymous anything, be considered a best practice? No one I know wishes to be unremarkable, impersonal, faceless, or unknown – and it would be difficult to argue that anonymity enriches relationships or strengths connection with others. The fact is that feedback rarely creates real or lasting impetus for change, which is crazy because the whole idea is to encourage professional growth.
I asked myself why people employ this form of feedback. And my answer is simple. Because of the same reasons people avoid speaking up even when they know their boss is saying something completely wrong, or when somebody is mistreating them in a meeting or when somebody else in the company does something weird or our of the ordinary. All of these situations are uncomfortable. They make us feel bad about ourselves. They trigger our emotional fear and the need to conform. So, we back away – from conflict, from connection, from feedback and hide behind repression mechanisms or anonymity.
This is however not the answer but the problem itself. The only way to actually change things is by accepting them and dealing with them straight on. By putting things on the table, recognizing that we feel a certain way and that it does not mean that we are bad people, just people. So many habits and norms in corporate life are about avoidance, conformity and appearance. But we need, in real life as well as in the corporate life, is more active acceptance and active discussions about feelings, thoughts and behaviors. And this discussion should in no way be anonymous.