Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

Simple practices that make human interactions more respectful, and management more manageable. The title statement or idea is something I learned (intellectually) in my early 20s, but it’s not until I started practicing it later in my career as a manager that I fully understood its true weight.

Let’s make it clear that this phrase applies particularly to managers and their direct reports. If you’re working horizontally with your fellow managers  and you’ve a strong trust established between you then you’ll certainly want to engage in healthy conflict and share your ideas or opinions very openly.

So here we’re talking specifically about managing your direct reports.

The premise is simple: when you have something positive to say about someone or their work, praise them for it in front of others. That lets them fully feel the joy of their success. On the other hand, if something has been done poorly, or you’ve noticed a lack of integrity or a behaviour in a colleague which makes collaboration challenging… talk to them about it in private.

In this case, the opposite IS NOT true. It is NOT a good idea to reprimand in public and praise in private. It can be very damaging for someone to be reprimanded or corrected in front of their peers. Why? We are social creatures and social belonging is part of our DNA. When we are shamed or made to feel foolish in front of others it undermines our basic feelings of belonging. It’s actually irrelevant who is “right” and whether or not the person fully deserves to be corrected or punished. In fact the more they deserve it, the more they know deep down that they deserve it, the more they will appreciate a manager or a colleague calling them to accountability and doing so in private. Fail to do this and it can later lead to resentment and embarrassment within an individual. The kind of nasty feeling that can sink its claws into a soul and psyche for a long time and create those subtle emotional pollutions that make life and work uncomfortable and awkward. Just keep it simple. Talk to your direct reports about the uncomfortable stuff in private.

Funny enough, the opposite on the praise spectrum is also not good. I’ve done this before when I’ve praised someone for a job well done and no one but myself and this person are present in the room. It’s not a bad thing, certainly, but it sure doesn’t have much spice or kick to it. If you’re really wanting to show appreciation and to give a boost to a team-member who has made a particularly important contribution – do it in front of other team-members and peers. That’s the only way to get that wonderful, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment and belonging. It’s a powerful force.

I also quite enjoy this blog post about the same topic.

Featured image courtesy of Quote

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