Leadership Tactic #72: Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately

Praise publicly, criticize privately. It’s a simple rule.

And yet many people–among them a number of managers–get it backwards.

We criticize our peers in front of others so that we can feel powerful. We may not realize it, but we do. Maybe it’s a know-it-all comment about a friend’s misuse of grammar in a small group. Maybe it’s a snide remark at your spouse’s expense at a dinner party. Or maybe it’s a critical statement about an employee’s work at a staff meeting.

You could have just as easily waited for the group to disperse or the dinner party to end or the meeting to adjourn. But no, you chose that moment to come across as intelligent, witty, or authoritative. You pushed compassion aside and felt powerful for a few minutes.

Let’s all agree to stop doing this.

Unfortunately, all too often we praise people in private instead of in front of their peers. Perhaps we feel like we’re losing power when we do that, or maybe we’re just not accustomed to praising people at all. Which is really unfortunate.

The next time you catch yourself criticizing publicly or praising privately (or not at all, even though praise is deserved), hold your tongue. You can be a better person than that.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be a powerful person. But if you want honest, moral power that lasts, do it by being really good at what you do. Do it by being articulate and an effective listener. Do it by mediating and preventing conflict. Do it by criticizing people one-on-one so that they have a chance to grow, and do it by praising people publicly so that they have their accomplishments affirmed.

When was the last time you were criticized publicly? How did it feel?

11 thoughts on “Leadership Tactic #72: Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately”

  1. I can’t think of a specific time I was criticized in public, although I am sure it happened, but I do have memories of people (family, friends, etc) making fun of me for things in front of others. Which I guess is the same thing. And I do remember it hurting worse because it was in public–which is why I’ve sworn never to do that to our little ones!

    Reply
    • That’s a great commitment to make to your family. I think sometimes it’s tough to draw that line between playful banter and hurtful jesting, and I’m sorry some people have crossed that line around you in the past.

      Reply
  2. There’s something worst than that. Fake praise, criticize in your back. I had to go through that for a couple weeks. That person is not even my supervisor.

    Reply
    • That’s a great point, Jasmin. Criticism behind someone’s back is a low blow, and fake praise is worse than no praise at all.

      Reply
  3. Jamey, I like your blog. It is witty, insightful, humorous and often discusses thing that are relevant to my life.

    How’s that?

    Reply
  4. My team leader lines up a meeting with just him and I and criticises me a couple of times a year. Sometimes he has yelled at me publicly but he mostly makes sure it is between him and I. I feel very confronted when he does this so usually don’t say anything although later I will either cry or be visibly upset.
    He finds any reason to have a jibe at me and I believe this to be not deserved. He never praises me for the work I do and I don’t make a big deal of this but it does hurt me and I quite often feel unhappy to be around him. Other than that the other staff and place I work is pleasant.
    I have thought about reporting this to the Union as our company makes a big deal about values and bullying etc. in the workplace, but I have only been here 6 years yet my TL has been here about 15 years and has a strong relationship with Senior Management so I have thought I may only be making things worse for myself if I report him.

    Reply
    • Catherine: Unfortunately, the world is full of terrible managers, and I’m really sorry you have one.

      I understand your fear, and if I may, there is another option to be used with caution, but it may work: Start speaking the praises of your manager to upper management as much as possible. Basically, do everything you can to get him promoted so he’s no longer your manager. It’s a precarious method, because if someone else knows how bad he really is, they’ll associate him with you, but it sounds like he’s been pretty good at hiding his true nature to upper management.

      Reply

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