Praise or Criticize? When and Where?

Posted by Todd Smith

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Can you recall a time when you were reprimanded, criticized, or put down in front of someone else? If so, you know that it’s quite humiliating to be on the receiving end of public criticism.

“Praise in public and criticize in private” is a golden rule of business and social etiquette. Yet, this wise communication advice often goes unheeded. Even though most of us agree with this rule on the surface, it isn’t always easy to make sure we’re not the ones doing the public criticizing.

Today’s message is about how best to handle disputes, problems, and constructive feedback privately and why this benefits you.

The Right Approach

Let’s first take a look at the best way to handle a situation where you find it necessary to confront someone or provide feedback. The decision between a public or private conversation should always be made with the receiver in mind. If what you have to say could be perceived by anyone listening as reflecting negatively on the other person, their work, or their reputation, your conversation should be private.

The Right Time

Next, decide when and where to deliver your message. For example, do the circumstances call for a formal meeting, or would a few minutes simply out of earshot from others accomplish it? Similarly, if the situation is complex, it’s not a good idea to plan your conversation right before a major meeting or as you and the other party are walking out the door.  You want to make sure you have adequate time to discuss the subject without feeling rushed.

The Follow­-up

After you have provided any constructive feedback or sensitive communication, make a point to follow up with the person soon after to ensure that the relationship is intact. With little effort, you’ll be able to pick up if the other person is harboring ill feelings or has been hurt by your conversation. If they are colder than normal or avoiding you, the sooner you reach out to them, the better. Make a point of ensuring that your next interaction with the person is a positive one.

Benefits to You

Handling disputes and feedback privately shows respect for others and is the right thing to do. Here are three reasons to make the right choice the next time you’re faced with deciding between a public or private conversation to deliver anything less than praise:

1.  You will command greater respect. The days of using fear to command respect are long gone. When you show others that you are in control of your thoughts and emotions and are capable of rising above the norm, you stand out as someone worthy of respect.

2.  You will be viewed as more likable.  Do you prefer to be around people who are kind and thoughtful, or critical and fault-finding? Most people prefer the former!

3.  You will benefit from a more positive reputation. How you speak to and about other individuals is a direct reflection on you. When the words others hear coming from you are positive, uplifting remarks, they associate those remarks with you. When you are judgmental, negative, or sarcastic, they attribute those negative remarks to your personality. Because of this, I often go out of my way to make sure others hear my genuine praise of others when it is deserved.

When you give praise in public, make sure it is deserved. Praising someone publically who is undeserving will almost certainly undermine your credibility with everyone else in the group.

When you deliver praise in public and criticize in private, others will respect you, and your influence as a person and leader will grow.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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