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Video Tip: Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

When thinking about how to best deliver feedback, think not only about the manner in which you give it, but also the setting you choose. Radically Candid praise is delivered in public and Radically Candid criticism is delivered in private. When you share specifically what was great and why it was great publicly, not only does it have more meaning for the person being praised, it helps the whole team learn something new. If you’re criticizing a person, it’s much kinder to do it in private. It will also be more clear, because private criticism is much less likely to trigger a person’s defense mechanisms.

Russ shares some tips for how to remember to give criticism in private and praise in public.

 

Read our article about scenarios that might call for reconsidering public praise and private criticism.

Tips to Avoid Obnoxiously Aggressive Criticism

If you think you’ve given criticism that was Obnoxiously Aggressive, check out these tips for moving towards Radical Candor!

Criticize kindly

This doesn’t mean sugar coating. It means seeing your criticism as an act of kindness, meant to help the person improve. If others have rated your criticism as Obnoxiously Aggressive, you’re not showing that you Care Personally. Try to pause for just a moment and imagine the face of somebody you really care about. Bring the kindness you’d show that person to this conversation.

State your intentions

Try to offer a story about a time when you made a similar mistake, and show how somebody’s criticism helped you. Offer your criticism as a gift intended to help the person improve. Help them see it’s not a punishment intended to humiliate.

Criticize HUMBLY, expecting to be challenged and sometimes proven wrong

You want to offer CANDOR (“Here’s what I think, what do you think?”) not the TRUTH (“Here’s what I know, you don’t know shit from shinola!”)

Criticize IMMEDIATELY to keep it quick and light

Don’t save up criticism and then pile on a person in a 1:1 or a performance review. Small, quick course corrections are kinder and easier to take than a pile-on well after the fact.

Don’t hide from emotion

Often people avoid giving feedback in person because they are afraid of confronting the other person’s emotions. That’s a big mistake. Reacting to emotion with compassion is a good way to move up on the “Care Personally” axis.

Don’t “front-stab!”

To show you care personally, criticize IN PRIVATE, praise in public. It’s fine to debate or disagree in public, but when you are criticizing a person’s work or behavior, do it privately.

Don’t criticize personality

Don’t say “You’re wrong!” Instead say, “That’s wrong.” For bonus humble points, say, “I think that’s wrong, and here’s my rationale for why: [data point 1, fact 2, theory 3]”

Tips to Avoid Manipulatively Insincere Criticism

If you think you’ve given criticism that was Manipulatively Insincere, check out these tips for moving towards Radical Candor!

Criticize kindly and clearly

Just say what you really think. It’s not mean if it’s clear enough. If others have rated your criticism as Manipulatively Insincere, you’re not showing you care or challenging them directly enough. It’s hard to break free from the “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all” advice that was pounded into your head since you learned to talk. But now it’s not just your job to say it — it’s your moral obligation.

Don’t triangulate

If you have criticism for somebody, it’s helpful to tell the person directly, but really unhelpful to talk about the problem with others.

People almost always know what you think even if you don’t say it

When you are thinking one thing and saying another, it’s not kind, it’s confusing, and it erodes trust.

Unspoken criticism doesn’t age well

It sours over time. Remember that ex who’d bring up small things you did wrong six months ago? You don’t want to be THAT person.

Just say it, in person

It can feel risky to tell somebody what you think right to their face. But, saying in person “I think this is screwed up, and here are some ideas for how to fix it” is FAR safer than saying nothing and thinking, “you’re screwed up.” Be humble (“I think”) and focus on specifics, not attributes (“this,” not “you”), and be ready with ideas to help. Then, it’s not so risky.

Don’t “back-stab!”

Criticizing a person behind their back is much the same thing as using a bullhorn and doing it publicly, only worse. It’ll get back to them, and it will earn you the reputation for back-stabbing.

Focus on specifics not attributes

When people screw up, it doesn’t mean they are morons. It just means they screwed up. But when you think, “What a moron,” you are falling prey to the fundamental attribution error. If you are very clear about what went wrong, you’re more likely to be able to verbalize what’s bothering you in a way that is kind.

Tips to Avoid Ruinously Empathetic Criticism

If you think you’ve given criticism that was Ruinously Empathetic, check out these tips for moving towards Radical Candor!

Criticize clearly

Don’t try to spare people’s feelings by leaving out the details — that is not nice, it’s just unclear. If others have rated your criticism as Ruinously Empathetic, you’re not Challenging Directly enough. Try clearly explaining what you think directly to them.

Just say it!

When you don’t say it, you rob the person of a chance to fix what’s wrong, or to push back and convince you that actually YOU are wrong. Not saying it is unclear and unhelpful.

Criticism is not arrogant

When you challenge somebody, you expect them to challenge you back. When you say, I think that’s wrong, you give them a chance to prove to you that it’s actually right. If somebody disagrees with your criticism, it’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

Criticism has a short half life

Just say it right away. The longer you wait, the less clear you are because you remember fewer details about what actually happened.

Criticize IN PERSON

Don’t hide behind email or chat to avoid negative emotions. If somebody gets upset and starts to cry, it’s hard but it’s not the end of the world. Neither of you is water-soluble. If the person yells, it won’t kill you; if the person gets defensive, the fact you’ve already proven that you care will help you get through.

Criticize in private, debate in public

You would never criticize a person in public, and that’s a good thing. But you probably could do a little more disagreeing and debating in public.

Remember that telling people when something is wrong is not a personal attack

In fact, not telling somebody when they have spinach in their teeth is actually like saying: “You are not even capable of removing spinach from your teeth, so I won’t bother telling you it’s there.” When you are clear about something that is wrong, it is a gift, an act of kindness.

Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

A good rule of thumb for giving feedback is to praise in public and criticize in private.

For those of you who find mnemonics helpful, these are the fifth of our six tips for giving Radically Candid feedback. Be HIP, or HHIIPP.

hip-feedback-public-private

 

Public praise is great for both recognition and learning. When you share specifically what was great and why it was great publicly, not only does it have more meaning for the person being praised, it helps the whole team learn something new. Make sure to provide details about what the person did, the impact, and the context so that the whole team learns. For example, don’t say, “Alex did a great job.” Instead say, “Alex came up with the idea for X and then got budget for it. As a result, you are all 85% more efficient. That means less grunt work and more time for cool projects for everyone. Thank you Alex!”

Private criticism is important in order to be kind and clear. Radical Candor is not the same thing as “front-stabbing”, and it’s much kinder to criticize someone in private. Public criticism can feel unnecessarily harsh. Private criticism will also be more clear because it’s much less likely to trigger a person’s defense mechanisms. Defensive reactions make it much harder for a person to accept they’ve made a mistake and to learn from it.

However, “Public Praise / Private Criticism” is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule. The key things to keep top of mind are these basic questions:

Are you showing that you Care Personally?
Are you Challenging Directly?

If the answer to those questions is yes, you’re in good shape, even if you’re violating the rule of thumb. Consider these possible exceptions:

Individual preferences

While the majority of people do like to be praised in public, for a few any kind of public mention is cruel and unusual punishment. When praising people your goal is to let them know what they did well as clearly as possible and in the way that will be best for them — not the way you’d like to hear it.

Remember, Radical Candor is measured at the
listener’s ear, not the speaker’s mouth.

That’s why we recommend a variation on the Golden Rule for feedback. If the Golden Rule is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” it’s better to “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them” when giving feedback.

When you are focused on caring personally, you will naturally be more aware of the other person’s preferences and adjusting for these preferences is easy.

Group learning

You may want to consider the opportunity for group learning for both praise and criticism. Praising in public has the great effect of showing everyone what success looks like so that they can learn from the accomplishments of others. Whenever I praise in public, I like to be explicit about this public learning, saying something like, “Because I want to make sure all of you learn from what Jane did, I’m going to reiterate what I said in All-Hands today.”

When I want to encourage public criticism so that everyone learns from each other’s mistakes, I let it be self-reported. I try to make people feel comfortable admitting mistakes by building a culture of self-criticism.

You are the exception to the rule

Great bosses don’t criticize in public, and they discourage employees from criticizing each other in public. However, they encourage employees to criticize them in public. Getting criticized in public gives the boss an opportunity to model appreciation for the criticism, to accept it as a gift.

Great bosses encourage employees to criticize
them in public.

It also saves time — if one person has a criticism of you, it’s likely others do as well. You can address that issue for everyone all at once if you do it in public. Finally, there’s one boss and a lot of employees so it’s harder to get on the boss’s calendar — employees have got to catch as catch can, and sometimes that means in public.

Multiple modes

Praising people at a public all-hands meeting is a great way to share significant accomplishments. Following this up with a public email to the whole team solidifies the praise even more. But that doesn’t mean you only have to praise publicly. Following up your public praise with another mention of the accomplishment one on one carries a lot of emotional weight and shows that you Care Personally.

 

What do you think of these exceptions? What are your tips and reminders for praising publicly and criticizing privately?

Tips for Radically Candid Criticism

Giving criticism is hard! Check out these tips for offering Radical Candor:

About CriticismRadically Candid criticism is kind and clear

Easy to say, hard to do. Being kind means caring about what’s best for the person long term, not just what feels easiest right now. Being clear means leaving no room for interpretation about what you really think — while also being open to the possibility that your opinion is wrong.

Be helpful

When you are really clear about what’s wrong and why, you help the person fix the problem. Offer criticism in a spirit of helpfulness, even if you don’t have actual help to offer.

Be humble

Your ego is in check; you are always open to learning that what you think is dead wrong. You’re not just open to being wrong, you’re happy to be proven wrong. What you care about is helping others do the best work of their careers, and getting to the best answer.

Give criticism immediately

If somebody makes a mistake, you tell them right away. That’s more kind because pointing it out right away gives the person an opportunity to fix it faster, and it’s more clear because the details are fresh.

Deliver criticism in person

Remember, Radical Candor gets measured at the listener’s ear, not the talker’s mouth. Since 90% of communication is non verbal, it’s really hard to know if your criticism is Radically Candid — or not — if you can’t see how it lands. The only way to know if you’ve been kind and clear is to see how the other person is reacting.

Give criticism in private

Debates can happen in public, but if you’re criticizing a person, it’s much kinder to do it in private. It will also be more clear, because private criticism is much less likely to trigger a person’s defense mechanisms.

It’s not about personality

It’s saying, “I don’t think that’s true,” rather than, “You’re a liar!” People can’t alter their personality, so saying things like “You’re a jerk” or “You are sloppy” is neither kind nor helpful. And it’s almost always a flawed analysis of the situation.

A HIP Approach to Feedback: How to Achieve Radical Candor

We’re all about helping people become more Radically Candid with their feedback. By feedback, we mean praise and criticism. Being Radically Candid means:

  1. Being more specific and sincere with praise
  2. Being more kind and clear with criticism

This will improve your relationships at work AND help you achieve a better business result. But it’s easy for us to give this advice and hard for you to do it.

Here’s a way to think about how to be more kind and clear with criticism and more specific and sincere with praise. Radical Candor is HIP:

  • Humble
  • Helpful
  • Immediate
  • In person
  • Private criticism / Public praise
  • Not about Personality

Below is a brief explanation of what these elements mean. In additional posts, we’ll dive into more detail and provide specific tips you can use for each section.

BUT, A NOTE OF CAUTION: Whatever you do, don’t sit there saying nothing trying to remember what “I” stands for. For the vast majority of people, the important thing is to just say it!

Be Humble

You can’t Care Personally or Challenge Directly if you’re not humble. First, it’s hard to care at a personal level about somebody if you think you’re superior. And you can’t Challenge Directly and be open to the reciprocal challenge if you’re not humble enough to realize you may be wrong. By humble we don’t mean you have to grovel or pretend to be worse than you are. We just mean that you need to have the possibility top of mind that whatever you’re saying may be wrong. Don’t be arrogant. Be curious. Deliver your feedback firmly and with supporting rationale, but be open to push-back. Listen with true intent to understand so that you get a full command of both perspectives before agreeing or disagreeing.

Be Helpful

It’s easy for us to say “be helpful”. It’s obvious that being helpful is the whole point of Challenging Directly and that it’s a great way to show you Care Personally. Still, it’s hard for you to do it. You don’t have a lot of time, and you don’t have all the answers! The good news is that being helpful doesn’t mean you have to be omniscient or to do everybody else’s work for them. It just means you have to find a way to be as clear as possible and to offer that clarity as a gift.

Give Feedback Immediately

When you give feedback immediately, you save yourself the burden of remembering to give it later, and, since the details are all fresh in your mind, you are able to be much more specific. You also give the person a better chance to improve immediately. If you offer immediate impromptu feedback, it really won’t take too much time, though it might occasionally make you a couple minutes late to your next meeting.

Give Feedback In Person (if possible)

Remember, the clarity of your feedback gets measured not at your mouth, but at the other person’s ear. That’s why it’s best to deliver feedback in person. Since upwards of 90% of communication is non-verbal, you won’t really know if the other person understood what you were saying if you can’t see the reaction. When talking in person, you can make adjustments based on their body language and emotions. If they are not hearing you, you need to move further out on the “Challenge Directly” axis. If they are upset, you need to move further up on the “Care Personally” axis — without backing off your direct challenge!

Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

A good rule of thumb for feedback is praise in public, criticize in private. Public criticism tends to trigger a defensive reaction and make it much harder for a person to accept they’ve made a mistake and to learn from it. Public praise tends to make the recipient feel great, and it encourages others to emulate whatever they did that was great. But, it’s a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule.

Don’t Make Your Feedback About Personality

There is a big difference between Caring Personally and talking about personality when giving praise and criticism. Make your feedback about the work the person has done, rather than about the person. “I think that’s wrong” is more effective than “You’re wrong.” And “That was a great presentation because X, Y, Z” is more beneficial than “You’re great at presentations!”

Hopefully this introduction to the HIP approach is helpful. You can also watch my interview with FemgineerTV, where I talk through each of these ideas (starting around 14:30).

To read the full articles about each of these tips, click the links below!

How to Give Humble Feedback

6 Tips for Helpful Feedback

Give Immediate Feedback: Tips and Reminders

In Person Feedback is Best

Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

Don’t Give Feedback About Personality

 

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