Praise in public, critique in private. It’s Management 101. Most decent leaders know it’s detrimental to reprimand employees in public. It’s unkind and does not improve performance.
What’s less talked about though, is the impact public critique has on the person who is giving it.
I was recently working with a team. There was one manager who, despite his promises to do otherwise, often critiqued his people in front of their peers.
One day, the team got the last laugh.
Early one morning, the manager called out one of his service people for incorrectly handling an order. As usual, he did it in front of everyone. As the manager went on about the mistake, he began to get the sense his team was smirking. He was right. At the conclusion of the manager’s rant, the service person smiled sweetly and said, “I followed the new policy. We got a memo about it last week, or weren’t you aware of that?”
Mic drop. The manager looked like a fool. The entire team delighted in seeing him proved wrong.
It’s an extreme, but not uncommon example. Management science has widely documented the impact public critique has on employees. Daniel Goleman, the co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, explains in the Harvard Business Review how criticism triggers anxiety and negative emotions. When we’re told about things that we’re doing wrong, Goleman says, it “shuts us down, puts us on the defensive, and narrows our possibilities to rescue operations.” When it happens in public, you’re more concerned about how you look in front of your peers than you are about rectifying any wrong. You can’t hear the facts; all you feel is the emotional sting.
Managers who cause this emotional sting, wind up paying a price. Here are three reasons why critiquing in public circles back to hurt the boss:
Publicly reprimanding people doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for employees, and it’s horrible for the boss.