Anonymous Feedback: Broken Trust in the Workplace

Anonymous Feedback: Broken Trust in the Workplace

Providing effective feedback is crucial for driving performance, engagement and results. However, research shows that over a third of feedback interventions actually backfire, resulting in poor performance and broken trust.1 Anonymous feedback leads to a focus on weaknesses and lacks the proper context, clarity and ongoing support needed to motivate real change.

In this landscape, anonymous employee feedback, while seemingly offering a safe space for candid opinions, is inherently flawed. The anonymity can obscure valuable context, hinder constructive dialogue, and contribute to a culture of suspicion. Giving feedback in the wrong way can unintentionally cause more harm than good. Ongoing misunderstandings can hinder the positive change that helpful feedback promotes.

That's why a solution-focused approach to delivering feedback is so powerful. By concentrating on strengths and specific desired behaviors, solution-focused feedback rallies people around possibility versus problems.

Today's workforce craves more supportive developmental experiences. Is your culture ready to transition from confidential criticism to open, constructive dialogue?

The Shortcomings of Anonymous Feedback

Traditional methods overload on constructive criticism. Traditional feedback methods concentrate heavily on weaknesses, gaps and "opportunities for improvement." Anonymous feedback tools entice with their promise: "Say what needs to be said without fear." But this cloak of anonymity compromises context, follow-through and damages the culture.

Our natural negativity bias causes us to fixate more on perceived criticism. As a result, people feel discouraged, unsure of how to improve and even suspicious of colleagues' motives.

Anonymity also relieves stakeholders from supporting ongoing development—once surveys are complete, the process ends. This isolation leaves individuals lost on how to enact changes.

The focus stays stuck in the past. Dwelling on past problems without vision for an ideal future makes growth seem vague and difficult. People cling to patterns that made them successful so far, unsure how to integrate complex feedback. As a result, critical feedback meets resistance and often fails to elevate performance.

The Solution Focus Approach: Transforming Weaknesses into Possibilities

Start with strengths appreciation. Positive feedback differs from negative feedback because it conveys gratitude for demonstrated strengths, making individuals feel valued for their contributions. Solution-focused feedback breeds receptivity to discuss areas of growth. Recognizing strengths also boosts confidence to take on new challenges.

Get specific about enhanced behaviors. Rather than criticize in generalities like "lacks strategic thinking," solution focus gets detailed about desired behaviors. This direct feedback provides clarity to help individuals understand expectations and recognize how to shift approach.

For example, "In board presentations, I think you'll be more influential if you share the headline or conclusion first and save the details for when questions are asked." In this feedback example you can quickly see characteristics of effective feedback are incredibly specific.

Replace problems with possibilities. Dwelling on struggles is demoralizing and paralyzing. The revolutionary approach here is skipping weaknesses altogether to imagine optimistic possibilities. What is the vision for success?

Describe destinations, not deficiencies. This future-focused language inspires hope and possibility.

Rally supporter accountability. Instead of nameless, anonymous surveys, solution focus involves two-way conversations where supporters describe the improved future-state.

This transparency builds understanding and gets allies actively invested in change. Go even further by asking each supporter to identify how they will specifically help—where and when can they watch for and reinforce steps in the right direction? Ongoing partnerships replace isolation so people feel encouraged and supported in their development.

The Impact of Solution Focused Feedback

Research shows solution focus significantly improves goal approach, positive mindsets, perceived ability, and actions taken more than traditional problem-centric methods.2 People feel energized, motivated and capable to deliver.

Solution focus activates the brain's creative potential. Focusing on negatives activates the brain's threat response hampering flexible thinking. Affirmative possibility questions unlock the brain's creative potential so people see more options and solutions.

Drives change through supporter alliances. Confidential feedback isolates while transparent conversations build alliances. Allies then recognize and reinforce progress, fueling change. Each supporter also expands their capability to give constructive feedback, enhancing the culture.

Creates upward rather than downward spirals. Problems beget more problems in downward negative spirals. Possibilities spawn further possibilities, propelling upward positive spirals of growth. Solution focus kickstarts these virtuous cycles of progress.

The Results of Investing in Solution Focused Feedback

Traditional feedback methods focused heavily on criticism have lackluster results. Anonymous employee surveys are unsupportive processes that leave people discouraged and stalled. Organizations can stop anonymous feedback. Instead, they can implement solution focused models that reveal possibilities which drive engagement, capability and forward momentum.

The small investment to create supportive processes with solution focused techniques pays incredible dividends through expanded potential across the organization and a culture that fits today's workforce. People perform better when energized by possibility versus weakened by criticism. Rally your teammates around the favorable future you aim to create together.

Change Positive offers feedback training and feedback certification for organizations, learning and development professionals, coaches and more.

  1. Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). "The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback theory." Psychological Bulletin, 119, 254–284.
  2. Grant, A. (2012). "Making positive change: A randomized study comparing solution-focused vs. problem-focused coaching questions." Journal of Systemic Therapies, 31 (2), 21-35.