When giving feedback, you may have been told to ‘Praise in Public and Criticize in Private’. This isn’t bad advice, it’s just not the whole story.
To quickly recap, the reason for this advice is:
Praise in public: when someone does something well, it’s good to talk about it publicly because most* people like recognition for their work, and others on the team can also learn from the success.
Criticize in private: when someone underperforms, best to discuss it in private to minimise the chances of them getting embarrassed and defensive rather than listening to what you have to say.
*Some people hate being praised in public and find it deeply awkward. If you don’t know this about each of your team members, talk to them about how they like to receive recognition for good work in your next one-on-one.
So far, so good. But we wanted to talk about the importance of also praising in private.
When you credit someone in public, there’s often not the opportunity to go in-depth into the reasons why their performance was so impressive. If it’s in a team meeting, there’s other things to discuss, and/or it can also feel excessive to focus on one person for too long. This often leads to praise like:
‘“Congratulations on closing that big new client!”
“Thanks for jumping in and helping Lisa with her question on Slack this morning.”
“I saw that you shipped Feature X on time - way to go!”
It’s general, which provides team members with recognition for their work but doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to build on it.
This is why we’d encourage you to also praise in private. Here you can get into the details of someone’s impact, and what you can do in the future to build on that strength. This makes sure your team members get the most out of the learning opportunity.
This practice is particularly important for high-performers, where you’ll spend far more time honing their strengths rather than discussing their weaknesses.
If you’re interested in learning more on this topic, those examples above are from a similar piece on Positive Feedback by engineering leader Jacob Kaplan-Moss.