Critical exception to ‘correct in private’ rule (Guest commentary)

Public correction sometimes necessary
By Sharon Bar-David
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/05/2009

It’s time to challenge a long-held tenet of both HR and management. Devout followers of the “praise publicly, correct privately” rule may want to reconsider that belief.

I realize, in suggesting this, I’m bumping up against a time-honoured tradition. As early as 35 BC, Publilius Syrus said: “Admonish your friends privately but praise them openly.” In the 18th Century, Russia’s Catherine the Great said she liked to “praise and reward loudly, to blame quietly.“ And famed football coach Vince Lombardi said his recipe for team success relied on a “praise in public, criticize in private” paradigm.

There are good reasons why this rule has gained such traction. It helps maintain people’s sense of dignity. It helps avoid resistance and anger amongst team members in response to public criticism of a colleague. And, let’s face it, people respond better to criticism when there is no “observer effect.”