4 Tips for Writing Psychological Safe Surveys

4 Tips for Writing Psychological Safe Surveys

After administering hundreds of surveys, we share below four tips that have helped us increase the quality and honesty of the responses we get.

Blake Kohler
Blake Kohler
Co-Founder / CEO
4 Tips for Writing Psychological Safe Surveys

When you are writing a survey, especially when surveying someone vulnerable, it is essential to keep in mind the experience a person has when taking the survey. We're often so consumed by what we want to get out of the survey that we don't take time to think about how people will feel before, during, and after our surveys.

One of the most commons errors that arise from this self-centered focus is building a survey that makes people feel uncomfortable and changes their willingness to answer a question honestly. Often this happens when we cause someone to fear retribution for themselves or others by their answers in the survey. Maintaining someone's psychological safety is essential to ensure you get the honest responses you make your survey a success.

After administering hundreds of surveys, we share below four tips that have helped us increase the quality and honesty of the responses we get.

1. Keep it Short

One of the ways that surveys can make people feel uncomfortable is by asking too many questions. The more questions someone answers, the more identifiable they become and the more risk they perceive they take on by answering each question.

Keeping your surveys quick and straightforward will increase the number of honest responses you get and increase the likelihood of taking one of your surveys in the future.

2. Ask a mix of question types

Different people feel comfortable answering different types of questions. While some may prefer to rank their experience on a 1 -5 star scale, others might like to rank services in order of value or to give their response in an open text field.

By providing a mix of question types, you can help ensure that individuals feel safe by giving the feedback they want to share, not the input pried out of them by the question you ask.

While we want to dig below the surface, if your question asking is too aggressive or dig too deep, you might threaten that person's safety. Better to open up opportunities to share but also provide options to move on if they feel uncomfortable.

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3. Provide real anonymity 

Most of us have experienced taking a survey that claims to be anonymous or confidential that we didn't trust to be anonymous nor confidential. Everything from the types of questions you ask to the platform you use to get people to take the survey can build the trust that what someone says is anonymous or break it down.

A simple example is how you distribute a survey - when you email out or text it directly to an individual, it becomes difficult for a person to believe that your survey is not connected to them in some way. Individuals have become savvy to the techniques tech companies use to track people and often distrust that those same tactics aren't being used when taking surveys. Offering someone a place to take a survey via a kiosk or even somewhere they can take it themselves that's not tied to their phone or email helps increase trust.

Above all, you must keep anonymous surveys anonymous. If you're identifying an individual in a survey, you must clearly explain how you will use their data.

4. Close the feedback loop

One of the most often overlooked but essential parts of maintaining psychological safety is closing the feedback loop by sharing the outcomes from your survey.

Sharing outcomes doesn't mean that you need to address every single piece of feedback. It just means that people need to feel heard and that their feedback didn't lead to negative results.

The worst-case scenario is not closing the feedback loop and having something negative that is blamed on your survey. Make sure you're very clear about how your results are being used to avoid this problem and increase an individual's sense of safety to give feedback in the future.