Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

Praise in public? The debate

“Praise in public and punish in private” is the old axiom- it is common sense right?

People obviously would not appreciate being punished in public. If Frank has messed up, saying: “Frank you really screwed this up, do it again and you will be fired.” in front of the team is probably not a good idea.

"good job" printed on cookie
Image by Michael Savino

Is it okay however, to stand in front of the team and single out someone for praise?

“Libbi, I really appreciate the extra effort you put into completing that project on time. All those late nights sure paid off. Everyone let’s give Libbi a round of applause!”

In my opinion, this is almost as bad as calling out Frank. What about the great work and late nights of other members on the team that you are unaware of? What about the fact that Libbi does not like to be singled out in front of a group? Will Libbi’s teammates be happy for her and proud? A few may be happy, but the natural human reaction will be to tend towards jealousy and people will not be as open and willing to work closely with Libbi, the boss’s pet.   Public praise sows discontent, jealousy and resentment on the team and it is not always appreciated by the recipient, who has to work with the team, not you.

Think of it another way. Imagine if you were coaching Libbi and you asked her what she would like from you when she does well (as you should), and she said that she would like more public praise. She explains that she would get the most out of praise if you could communicate with your team that she is your shining star and you have a special relationship with her that extends beyond the rest of the team. Do you still want to give Libbi her public praise?

Is this not what we are doing when we single out one of our team for special attention in public?

Feedback between you and each of your staff, either good or bad, is between you and them period. That is how you build the individual relationship with each of your staff and improve the performance of each person without hurting team dynamics.

The praise you give the group in public is all about what the group accomplished.

The praise you give an individual like Libbi should be done in private.