Compliment in public, Reprimand in private

When you’re interacting with employees, context is everything. A good message can turn bad when it’s done wrong.

Here’s a great example. When you want to compliment someone on a job well done, you can say that in private. It will have impact. But even more powerful is to recognize someone in front of their peers. It helps everyone to recognize what the right behaviors are, and – if done sensitively – will help the employee feel better about their status in the group.

You might think that the same might be true of negative messages, but it’s not. The element of social embarrassment takes over, and can destroy the opportunity to learn from mistakes. So giving criticism is best done one-on-one.
There’s many subtleties to this, though. Certain cultures find it hard to accept public recognition; it can result in embarrassment. And sometimes you need to describe to a group how WE made a mistake. It can be a means of strongly reinforcing group results and accountability.

What do we learn from this?

  • Think carefully about the larger impact of how you communicate a message with emotional content.
  • Anybody who hears the message – even overhearing it unintentionally – will form an impression.
  • Help your employees to save face; we all make mistakes at time.
  • And take accountability for your own mistakes. It’s not fair to hold everyone accountable except yourself, and it shows your humanity.

If you have questions about how others might perceive your communication, run it by someone who can give you an honest assessment. That’s one of the roles that a good coach will play.

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