Don’t f**k up feedback: Praise in public, criticise in private

Have you ever been in a room when someone’s manager criticises them in front of others? The shocked looks, the blank stares and winces across the faces of those people are there for us all to see and you can feel the tension level just spike into overload.

Perhaps, you have been on the end of this scenario and received criticism from your manager in a public setting. It hurts right? It’s also awkward and in many ways it’s downright disrespectful.

If your “manager” ever criticises you in public, they are a weak leader and most likely very unthoughtful and caring in their approach to others too.

For me, delivering feedback no matter your level in a business is an essential skill that we all need. As a leader, you need to be even more skilled in the art of delivering and receiving feedback. Over the course of my thirteen plus years as part of people development teams I’ve seen some fantastic examples of feedback delivered in the right way but I’ve also seen far too many screw-ups that have resulted in terrible consequences.

Consequences are an important factor to consider in any feedback conversation. If you screw-up giving feedback to someone or perhaps not giving feedback to someone when they need it, then a whole number of consequences will emerge.

Let’s take the public criticism scenario as an example of how poor delivery leads to consequence.

If your manager or any leader in a business were to criticise you in a public setting with all your peers around you, how would that make you feel? Probably a whole range of emotions – anger, frustration, confusion, disappointment and basically, really pissed off.

Now think about your relationship with the person who decided to criticise you in public. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it’s not going to be great. Our brains are very good at connecting emotions to a traumatic event and this one would be no different. Your perception, respect and want to engage with this person will change forever.

And the most damaging part is… it may never be repaired.

Quite frankly, if someone treated you that way in public, would you ever want to deal with them again? Probably not.

So, we know that an event such as this would easily break the emotional contract between a team member and their manager. Plus, for the manager they also show behaviour which could alarm other team members and peers too. No one wants to work with someone who will so openly criticise others with no thought.

Thankfully, there is a far better way to deliver feedback and it’s pretty simple to remember too.

Praise in public, criticise in private.

This approach is highly recommended as part of the HIP feedback framework from the team at Radical Candor who are made up of former people development consultants at Google.

Now praise in public and criticise in private sounds pretty damn simple, and it is. There’s no complicated framework here, just common sense. People like to be praised, it’s good for morale, good for wellbeing and doing it in public allows everyone to celebrate others’ efforts. Yet, criticism is tough for anyone to take, no matter who they are, this is why having a conversation in private and choosing your words carefully is of utmost importance.

You can praise people in private too but it’s almost always more impactful in public. Whereas, criticism in public is just a big no no and one of the biggest sins a leader can make. All this will result in is poor relationships, disconnection, distrust and you will make it extremely difficult for a person to acknowledge an error and learn from it.

We want to develop adult to adult relationships, not parent – child ones. Embarrassing and demotivating your employees is not some secret feedback hack that is going to create a high performing team.

So, next time you have feedback to share, take a few mins and think about how you should deliver this. What’s the best approach? Find the right setting and be clear on what you’re sharing with them. 


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