Against Anonymous Feedback

Some people in Mozilla use Rypple, which is a system which allows (among many other things) the giving of anonymous feedback on people’s job performance. (I’ve never used it – this post is not me grinding an axe, or based on a bad experience.)

Given that people are normally happy giving positive feedback face-to-face, the primary use case here must be negative or constructive feedback.

As geeks, we might think that this is a good technical solution to the social problem that people often tie up the feedback with the giver, start attributing motives, and its gets personal. “Let’s get the human out of the loop”, we think, “and then the pure feedback stands alone.” But it has taken me 10 or more years to learn (and some may say I’ve still not learned) that people are not machines. You can’t tell people to “listen to what I say and ignore the way I say it”. Emotional context matters.

Negative anonymous feedback is a shot from the darkness, rather than the start of a conversation. If you receive some, you might want to discuss it with the person. “What if I did this instead? OK, but I think you misunderstood my motivation… No, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick there.” But if the feedback is anonymous, you can’t. They’ve got it off their chest and are satisfied; you are left hanging.

Furthermore, you know that someone’s upset with you, but you don’t know who, and your options for repairing the relationship are very limited. That could lead to paranoia and insecurity.

So next time you are considering giving someone anonymous feedback, why not give them the normal sort instead? You may be pleasantly surprised at how well they take it, you might learn something about them and the way they do things, and if it gets fraught, then it’s a chance for both of you to grow in grace and learn how to forgive.

Some God-given wisdom for those giving feedback:

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2)

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs. (Proverbs 10:12)

And for those receiving it:

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)

A rebuke impresses a discerning person more than a hundred lashes a fool. (Proverbs 17:10)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

5 thoughts on “Against Anonymous Feedback

  1. Matthew 18:15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”

    So I never give anonymous feedback, and whenever possible I give feedback directly to the person before I talk to anyone else.

  2. I completely agree with you, but in extended discussions, weren’t you arguing in favor of allowing community members to maintain anonymity (and I was arguing against)? If rypple is a crass and ineffective way to provide meaningful feedback, then why do we believe that the same model should be a major component of bugzilla and our forums? I’m in the process of getting my full argument all sorted out (for people new to the discussion), but overall I would take the discussion well beyond rypple, I don’t believe that we should be granting anonymity to members of the mozilla community.

  3. My team has used Rypple extensively – while sometimes we reveal ourselves, there are times where we remain anonymous. Not all the non-positive feedback is negative – much of it is constructive. From review to review, I’ve managed to develop a better understanding of what my teammates want out of me, without coloring their feedback because I happen to know who they are.

  4. anonymous: You probably don’t care, but just in case: I’m not sure where you got that particular translation from, but the sense of the verse in context is that when times are hard (drought), even the animals seek relief from God. (The “you” in the verse.) Not sure what the relevance is here, though.

    roc: Indeed.

    Alex: I think anonymity, with no way to reply (like Rypple, AIUI) and pseudonymity with the ability to build reputation and engage in conversation, are very different things. I’m very happy for us not to allow people to post anonymously in Mozilla forums, but I think we should permit (although discourage) pseudonymity.

    Dave: Have you ever received ‘constructive’ feedback where you would very much like clarification? Does Rypple allow you to ask for it?