Athena Swan

Athena Swan promotes and supports the careers of women in Science, Engineering and Technology (STEM), and aims to address gender inequalities and imbalance in these disciplines and, in particular, the under-representation of women in senior roles.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

In the news - Why “Praise Publicly, Correct Privately” is not always the best option

Managing other people - whether under or over us - is a fundamental part of work life, but the skills required are often learned in an ad-hoc manner. One piece of advice frequently passed around is “Praise Publicly, Correct Privately” - praise builds group and individual morale, but criticism is better received without an audience. However, one HR consultant argues that if there is no obvious public response to inappropriate behaviour, it becomes an accepted part of the workplace culture. She goes on to provide advice on when and how to carry out public admonishment. So if you manage other people, keep these principles in mind, and help create a more civil work environment for all staff.

If you are a devout follower of the “Praise Publicly, Correct Privately” rule, I invite you to reconsider.
I realize that in suggesting this, I’m bumping up against a time-honoured tradition. As early as 35 BC, Publilius Syrus asserted: “Admonish your friends privately, but praise them openly”.  In the 18th Century, Russia’s Catherine the Great stated that she likes to “praise and reward loudly, to blame quietly. And Vince Lombardi, the famed football coach, stated that his recipe for team success relied on a “praise in public, criticize in private” paradigm.
There are good reasons why this rule has gained such traction. It helps maintain people’s sense of dignity. It helps avoid resistance and anger amongst team members in response to criticizing a colleague in public. And let’s face it, people respond better to criticism when there is no ‘observer effect’.
But here’s the catch: when it comes to maintaining a civil, respectful workplace, the ‘correct privately’ notion is not only flawed, it is potentially harmful. In fact, in the respect arena the opposite applies:  “what’s done in public is corrected publicly”.
When public behaviour that is uncivil or offensive takes place with no managerial response, employees will rightfully conclude that this behaviour is condoned. Furthermore, by responding in private and not publicly, you miss invaluable opportunities for setting the standard, for all to grasp and follow.

Read more here.

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