Well, last Friday was interesting. When I decided to close the comments for last week’s installment of Moonlighting, Lat responded, “I’m glad at least someone is willing to try deactivation.” As expected, undeterred from the fact that they couldn’t comment directly on my post, the usual group of ATL commenters uniformly hijacked Kashmir Hill’s “revenge porn” post which followed mine on ATL to provide me with their usual thoughtful and highly encouraging feedback.
Later, an anonymous 2L tweeted as follows: And @susanmoon has the dubious distinction of being the first @atlblog writer to close off comments. When I joked to the 2L that my feelings get hurt every week, the 2L (taking me seriously, I presume) told me that instead of hiding, I should “rise above it” because even a SCOTUS justice would get flamed on ATL. This invited Brian Tannebaum (an ATL small-firm columnist) and some others to rush to my defense. What ensued was a flurry of debate on Twitter — infused with an abundance of insults — mainly between Brian and the 2L. I’m actually not quite sure why Brian got so involved, as I’m not even sure he likes me (that’s the real reason I cry every week). I think he just likes to pick on poor souls every once in a while (read: several times a day) for his own sadistic pleasure.
In any case, in addition to the entertainment value that the Brian v. 2L debates offered on Twitterverse Legal last weekend, there were definitely some interesting points made on both sides about the value of anonymous feedback….
These and the ATL commenters’ responses on Kashmir’s post made me consider how some of these issues regarding feedback and anonymity relate to year-end performance reviews that many of us are going through.
Most effective workplace performance review processes include anonymous feedback. The rationale for having employee feedback be anonymous is to encourage people to be honest, with less fear of repercussion from, or awkwardness with, the employee whose performance is being evaluated.
But anonymous feedback has its weaknesses. One is that “anonymous” usually doesn’t mean entirely anonymous. Even if the employee being evaluated is never told who said what, usually somebody knows who’s providing the feedback, and this can limit full honesty. Also, for whatever reason, employees providing anonymous feedback can engage in a spectrum of less desirable behaviors from exaggeration to lies, or rants and raves. (These types of behaviors are of course unheard on ATL, but they do unfortunately sometimes occur in the workplace.) And it’s not always easy to separate these from honest feedback. Finally, it’s often difficult for the person providing feedback anonymously to go into specifics (which would more helpful than just general feedback) because of risk of identification.
In my opinion, while performance reviews are valuable and absolutely have their place, often the best workplace feedback is direct, timely, and specific, which usually means a one-on-one conversation between the two or more employees involved. This way, if the feedback offered is of a “constructive” nature, the other person has an opportunity to defend/explain themselves. The employee offering the feedback may actually get some “constructive” feedback themselves during the process.
I acknowledge that many of us don’t have a lot of innate talent at delivering and receiving feedback openly, but it’s a highly useful skill to develop over time. One technique for giving constructive feedback is to focus on the behavior (“When I get interrupted…”) and how it affects you (“… it makes me feel like my ideas aren’t valued”) instead of focusing on the person (“You’re so freakin’ rude to interrupt me all the time.”). One way to encourage direct feedback from others is to just come right out and ask how you’re doing on a regular basis, as opposed to waiting until review season, whether it’s about your performance on a particular project, or your interactions with the other person generally. But when soliciting feedback, be open and try not to become defensive or attack back. At least not immediately.
And of course, there are a lot of differences between anonymous feedback at the workplace versus anonymous feedback on, say, oh, I don’t know, a snarky legal blog site. Generally, in the workplace, people have a lot more at stake. Hopefully, most people you work with care about teamwork, or at least don’t want to lose their jobs due to the incompetency of others and so are incentivized to improve overall quality. Anonymous reviews are therefore given more weight at the workplace than anonymous reviews for websites where the commenter usually has a lot less at stake.
ATL isn’t your typical blog site, and I find the dynamics between the bloggers and commenters on here (morbidly) fascinating sometimes. I’m continually amazed at how much time the commenters seem to have, and how creative and funny some of them can be (albeit usually in a racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive way). And I’m actually kind of disappointed when some of the hate in the comments is just kind of dumb instead of clever.
One thing that did surprise me about the comments last week was that most of the commenters seemed to assume there’s only one reason why a columnist would decide to deactivate comments (i.e., because the columnist can’t handle getting mean comments). To that I say, oh, come on. Do you really think any of the ATL writers were that clueless about what they were signing up for?
As mentioned in last week’s announcement, there are plenty of good reasons for deactivating comments, and I appreciate that ATL decided that this would be an option. I expect that I (as well as others) will close comments in many future installments for different reasons, and that it will become a kind of regular “thing.” But in such instances, I’ll look forward to checking your ever-supportive and kind feedback in the posts that follow mine. And of course, you can also always email me your feedback, positive or constructive, anonymous or not, at susanmoonATL@gmail.com.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at SusanMoonATL@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.