Anonymity is nothing new—it’s existed long before Attentiv, blog comments, or the notes you might’ve gotten from your secret admirer back in the third grade. But it has an undeniable, universal appeal: freedom of expression without the fear of outside judgment. So what good can anonymity bring to the table in terms of workplace productivity?
Most Organizations Do Not Discuss Issues Truthfully
Many workplaces and professions require collaboration. Whether you’re making phone calls, attending meetings, or contributing to a group chat for your organization, you need to make decisions together. But when workers and managers reflect back on the collaboration driving their projects, they’re often unsatisfied with the results.
Here are some startling statistics from ClearCompany highlighting the issue:
Here’s the Scenario
An organization is chock-full of personalities. You’ve got introverts, extroverts, the loud department-head, the shy developer, the wise old IT sage, the young and hip new marketing kid, and so on. If you’re in a meeting, it can be intimidating to contribute when you’re worried about how you’ll be perceived by all these people.
So, say you’re in a meeting. You come up with a great idea, but you’re afraid of what somebody might think.
- The loud department-head might be a bit overbearing, so you could be afraid of being interrupted as soon as you start putting your idea out there.
- The shy developer might have some valid criticisms of your idea, but like you, is afraid of speaking up.
- The wise old IT sage could dismiss your ideas on account of his breadth of experience.
- The marketing kid might think your idea is too old-fashioned and have something more modern to contribute instead.
When you’ve finally considered all of these possibilities, you decide to just keep the idea to yourself. The problem presented in this scenario is all too common, and something that any sort of collaboration can suffer from.
What we’re all afraid of when we open our mouths.
The Problem Doesn’t Stop There
What if your idea was actually amazing? Oftentimes the above scenario doesn’t actually occur; you just perceive that your colleagues will shut you down. Therein lies the root of the problem: the death of creativity. So many ideas are left unsaid that it’s impossible to know whether your team really came up with the best solution or not.
Here’s a little excerpt from a study on anonymity run by Carnegie Melon University:
“A teacher was very active in a fandom group, and often posted fan fiction online. She wanted to keep in touch with other members of that community, but she was afraid that she might be criticized if her family or her boss found out about her writing because it was not ‘real’ fiction.”
What if this teacher were J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, or Harper Lee? What if this teacher could have used her writing in this fan fiction community to help her students’ writing skills in the classroom, or develop the next generation’s best authors?
Could you imagine J.K. Rowling being too afraid to share Harry Potter with the world?
The Solution: Anonymity
With people being afraid of speaking up at meetings, it’s no wonder that a lack of communication is cited as such a major contributor of workplace failures. Moreover, if less than half of workers are communicating honestly and effectively, how can we remedy these issues?
Anonymity detaches your name from any comments or feedback you have. Without having to worry about your teammates’ perceptions of you or your statements, you can give honest and candid feedback to the group. For example, the team at Attentiv was working internally on new features for the software. We (surprise surprise!) used Attentiv to discuss our thoughts and give one another feedback on our ideas. I was the only one adding suggestions for a particular feature and I was worried that it might look bad that all the comments were from me. I threw in some more suggestions anonymously so 1) my ideas still made it into the discussion and 2) I didn’t have to be anxious about being the only user making suggestions. Were my concerns silly? Perhaps, but if it weren’t for anonymity my ideas wouldn’t have gotten across and implemented.
I’m not the only with this anxiety, as the study from Carnegie Melon illustrates:
“Nearly half of the interviewees reported posting original artwork, photographs, videos, and writing online to share with others and receive feedback. We expected interviewees to attach their real names to original works to gain status and reputation, but many interviewees chose instead to sacrifice recognition to avoid links to their offline life. Interviewee #1 participated in various online music communities every week. She always posted her songs anonymously so that no one at work would find them and judge her by them.”
As you can see, it’s totally normal to be a bit nervous about sharing your ideas with others. The same concept applies to the workplace; speaking up when collaborating with others can be tough. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be heard, and it definitely doesn’t mean you should hold back your thoughts. Anonymity can ensure that everybody contributes so that teams can sift through all possible solutions, before arriving at the best (and most informed) decision.
Using anonymous feedback, your team can be as coordinated as Dunder Mifflin in no time.