Emily Marsh March 26 2019

Is honest feedback in the workplace less common than you think?

An open and honest workplace culture can transform your organisation. But do anonymous 360-degree feedback tools contradict this culture and actually create a less honest environment? And do people truly say what they think anyway, even if the feedback they give is anonymous?

Feedback, both positive and constructive, is vital to the ongoing development of the people within your business. But, it’s only worthwhile if people share their honest views and opinions. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Of course, we aren’t always comfortable saying what we really think. Even if delivered with positive intent, we sometimes worry about how feedback we give will be received and whether it will impact our working relationship with that person.

It’s not just constructive feedback that people can find daunting either. Giving praise can sometimes feel equally uncomfortable. Will I come across as patronising or insincere? Is it appropriate to praise my manager or colleagues more senior than me?

The shield of anonymity

For decades, organisations have believed that the most effective way to encourage honest feedback is by giving people a safe and secure shield of anonymity to hide behind. With traditional 360-degree feedback methods, people can share their honest views without fear of anything negative they’ve said coming back to them.

But actually, is an anonymous feedback approach stopping people from being able to say what they really think?

And does the very fact that feedback is given in secret, suggest that being honest with our colleagues is bad or dangerous?

Are people truly honest?

The trouble is, anonymous 360-degree feedback tools can actually reduce overall honesty within the workplace. If your organisation bases itself on the values of openness and honesty, then an anonymous approach contradicts those very values. People won’t feel that they are able to step up and share their opinion, whether what they want to say is unfavourable or not.

Then there’s the issue of bias. The relationships we have with our colleagues, for instance, may impact how we rate them. We may rate the colleagues we value as friends in higher esteem than perhaps they deserve, forgetting about that one thing they always do that has a detrimental impact on the whole team. We may be less likely to ‘see’ their weaknesses than we are the weaknesses of a colleague we tend to clash with.

What’s more, how honest are people when giving feedback to their managers, or to other more senior colleagues? Can we really say that bias doesn’t influence people here?

In a previous post, John Higgins, Research Director of The Right Conversation, raised this very point. John argues that feedback and truth are never neutral, and that who says what to who is actually a function of power. Whether an individual finds reviewing their manager uncomfortable or not, both conscious and unconscious bias may affect how truly honest they are when evaluating their performance. Unfortunately, this can mean that the feedback managers and leaders receive is not always helpful.

Encouraging an honest approach

There is no better way to value your colleagues than by telling them the truth. Honest feedback is the only way to empower people to be the best they can be, whether that’s by giving them praise to help build their confidence or by noticing when they could do something in a better way so that they can improve and be better.

Feedback needs to become a part of normal daily processes so that people get used to giving it and accept being open and honest with each other. And ultimately, if people trust and respect each other, they should feel comfortable giving honest feedback.

But, building a safe environment for sharing honest feedback openly doesn’t just happen overnight. Managers and leaders need to show their teams that their honesty won’t be met with negative repercussions. The more open people are to receiving feedback, the less difficult it becomes to be truly honest with them.

Honesty, trust, and respect are three key ingredients of a happy workplace. An open and honest feedback culture isn’t easy or quick to implement - but is well worth it.

To learn more about how to nurture a culture of honest and open feedback, take a look at this recent blog post - 5 simple tactics to help you build an open feedback culture.

Power of Feedback 

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