Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

When “Criticize In Private” May Not Be The Best Tactic

Part Two of the series that evaluates the wisdom of applying “Praise in public, criticize in private” to supervisory activities.

The first article about this topic compared praising in public and private. This article focuses on at least two vital times when criticizing–in the form of intervening and strongly correcting in front of others (not lengthy reprimanding or harsh or sarcastic correction) is appropriate and may be necessary.

1. When behavior or performance by an employee presents a liability concern that must be corrected immediately, with a strong message for others. Examples of this could be a purposeful safety violation, an incident involving harassment, or some other very inappropriate conduct. It is absolutely necessary to stop the action and it is appropriate and necessary to let everyone present know that the behavior or performance is not acceptable.

There have been many civil actions against organizations that could have been prevented or mitigated by an immediate denouncement of bad behavior. I was reviewing a complaint about harassment and read a reference to a time when something very inappropriate was said in a meeting, but nothing was done about it. The supervisor who heard it but didn’t say anything said, “I talked about it to him later and told him not to do it again. I believe in praising in public and criticizing in private.” That was scant consolation from the complainant’s viewpoint.

2. When other employees are aware of a situation and might assume you approve or do not care, if you say nothing. I saw this in action when a supervisor quickly, concisely, and appropriately corrected an employee about throwing trash on the floor. When the supervisor responded immediately, other employees noticed, seemed to think justice had been done, and life moved on. What message would have been sent by no action? What if the supervisor would have waited to talk to the employee about it in private?

A supervisor must be concerned about both the employee and the organization: A supervisor is responsible for the interests of the organization. Fortunately, that is accomplished best by having good relationships with everyone. However, there are times when what is right and effective overall must take precedence over what is preferred by an employee.

Lieutenant Joe Goff, my commander when I was a new sergeant, once told me, “If a guy is willing to show his fanny in public, I don’t mind kicking it in public.” Let me hasten to add that I do not advocate verbally kicking someones fanny in public or private, and neither did Lt. Goff! His point was that if someone does something he or she knows is not acceptable and does it in front of other employees, a supervisor should be more concerned about the wrong behavior and its affect on everyone, than about upsetting the employee who is corrected in front of others.

“See me in my office.” This ominous statement is a long-standing solution for many supervisors, and it is sometimes useful. Other employees usually understand what that means, as evidenced by the quiet that comes over everyone! However, sometimes this is actually more negative sounding that your subsequent conversation will be. In addition, there is the concern that you will not have made a public statement about the situation, if that is needed.

The thing to remember is this: Just as there are times to praise in private, there are times to correct in public. When you do it, where you do it and how you do it is what makes it effective rather than ineffective or inappropriate. This is certainly the time when the Golden Rule applies! How would you want to be treated?

April 30th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work | no comments

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