We’ve all been in a meeting where we or someone else has been criticized in front of others. It’s demeaning for the individual, and it’s uncomfortable for everyone… What’s more is that it’s rarely necessary, nor beneficial to criticize an employee in front of others. Author of the bestselling book Radical Candor, Kim Scott explains: 

“A good rule of thumb for feedback is praise in public, criticize in private. Public criticism tends to trigger a defensive reaction and make it much harder for a person to accept they’ve made a mistake and to learn from it. Public praise tends to make the recipient feel great, and it encourages others to emulate whatever they did that was great. But, it’s a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule.” 

While there are exceptions to the rule, and there is no true, correct way to approach praise and punishment, there are certain things that are helpful to keep in mind as you consider how to deliver both positive and constructive feedback to employees. This article covers the benefits of praising in public, criticizing in private and provides you with some key tips to keep in mind.   

Benefits of praise in public, criticize in private 

There are several benefits to praising in public and being critical in a private setting. First, public praise offers recognition, demonstrating to your team that you’re grateful for their contributions and that you want to share the good news with the rest of your team. Another benefit to giving public praise is that doing so creates an opportunity to share learnings with the whole team and therefore reinforces positive behavior. Not only will the praised individual seek to demonstrate the positive behaviors or accomplishments again, but other team members will also recall what was praised and will aim to showcase similar behaviors or actions. 

Sharing critical insights privately is more effective, since criticizing in private shows emotional intelligence and thoughtfulness towards the person receiving the feedback. Private conversations allow open communications and a safe space for a discussion where less defensiveness is required. A one-on-one conversation is a great opportunity for this kind of discussion since the conversation isn’t rushed and questions can be asked before coming to a solution together. 

Organize your thoughts

Giving critical feedback should be thoughtful and planned! Use a collaborative tool like Fellow during your one-on-one meetings to share feedback, document talking points, and assign clear next steps.

8 things to keep top of mind 

1 Consider individual preferences

It’s easy to assume that most people like to be praised in public, but it’s also important to think about certain employees who may feel extremely uncomfortable and anxious when confronted with a public mention. Likewise, where most people would prefer to receive their criticism in private, there may be certain individuals who don’t mind having their constructive feedback delivered then and there, in front of their colleagues. When considering how to praise and how to criticize, it’s important to focus on what’s going to be best for the employee, not what you think may be the most effective way to go about giving the feedback.

2 Provide clear details for positive reinforcement

It’s great to highlight when a job was well done, but it’s even more effective to provide your team with clear details for a positive reinforcement. Be specific and explain why the job was well done, why it had a positive impact, and what came from it.  Instead of saying, “Jamie did a great job,” try saying something more like, “Jamie recognized that most of our competitors were using a meeting management software to create meeting agenda templates, to document meeting minutes and track action items. We then went to management and got the budget to use Fellow. As a result, our meetings are 95% more effective. Jamie, thank you for doing your research and introducing us to a tool that has made all of our lives so much easier!” 

3 Encourage employees to criticize you

While you should criticize your employees in private, give them the opportunity to share criticism with you in public. This could be feedback about the effectiveness of your meetings or current company processes.

It’s important for you as a leader to experience receiving criticism in order to build your awareness and empathy for employees who have or will receive criticism from you. In this way, you gain the opportunity to model appreciation for criticism and to show your employees that getting criticized is not a big deal. In fact, it’s a great learning opportunity that doesn’t need to be taken personally. It’s simply a chance to make improvements, and to continue learning and growing. 

4 Share learnings

From praise and criticism come great learning opportunities, which are often worth sharing with the rest of the team. When you share why praise was given, in terms of why specific actions, accomplishments, or behaviors were great, it helps the whole team learn something new and take note of what works well. There is also always something to be learned from criticism, but you need to ensure that you’re delivering more negative learnings in a friendly, lighter way. This gives the team the opportunity to note actions and behaviors they should try to avoid. 

5 Praise and criticize regularly

When you praise and criticize regularly, you’re helping create a culture of open communications and feedback, where people feel more comfortable being honest with one another. When employees are more comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, your team is going to collaborate much more effectively. What’s more, it won’t feel like such a big deal when you do want to praise or criticize, because giving feedback is something that happens frequently. You can use Fellow’s feedback tool to share real-time feedback on meetings, projects, and performance so you always keep the lines of communication with your team open. 

6 Coach, don’t just criticize

Instead of nagging or making your employees feel like you’re parenting them, try coaching them. In Fellow’s Supermanagers podcast, Lara Hogan, Co-founder at Wherewithall shares, 

“Coaching is all about giving, creating the space and the environment for this other person to connect their own dots, helping them figure out what they should do, because I believe that humans already have the answers inside themselves, they already know mostly what they need to do to move forward to achieve something.” 

Rather than telling someone what to do, work with them to develop an approach to their professional development that works from them. By involving your employees in the feedback process, you empower them and motivate them to continue striving for success. 

7 Make time for one-on-one’s

Reiterate positive feedback and create a safe space for private criticism by holding regular one-on-one’s. One-on-one meetings help you:

  • create psychological safety by helping you build trust with your employees, 
  • provide a safe space for private conversations, help to unblock your teammates, 
  • foster an environment where you can exchange positive or constructive feedback, proactively address issues, 
  • follow up on KPI’s, and 
  • coach your employees towards a successful career. 

By making time for your employees, you demonstrate that their happiness, satisfaction, and feelings are important to you. This opportunity to strengthen psychological safety at work is going to strengthen communications and encourage sharing thoughts openly and honestly. 

8 Think about delivery

There’s a kind and professional way to say just about anything. Really think about how you’re going to deliver your positive or constructive feedback to someone. Consider which words would be the most appropriate to use, where the conversation should take place, and whether the person you have in mind is even open to receiving feedback right now. Being thoughtful about your delivery is going to ensure that people are more comfortable and more accepting of your praise or of your criticism. It’s completely appropriate to ask your employees if a certain time and place works for them to have a chat and to see how they respond. Use your emotional intelligence to better understand how your employee is feeling and how your feedback may impact them.

Parting advice 

Praise in public, criticize in private. It sounds simple, but in practice, there are a few things that you need to consider as a leader. Be conscientious in your approach, considering individual personalities and what will genuinely make your team members feel comfortable with the feedback they’re receiving. Be clear with your feedback, request criticism from your team and share your learnings—both positive and negative. Praise and criticize regularly so that doing so is embedded in your company culture, and coach your employees using their own input. Be sure to make time for one-on-ones and thoroughly consider the way you’re going to deliver your message. 

If you found this article to be helpful, be sure to pass it along to a friend or a colleague. See you next time on the Fellow Blog