Giving Criticism Right

Giving criticism can be a tough task for some, however, if you’re a manager of people and you’ve given negative feedback to a team member in public, you might have crossed the line.

Public criticism, unfortunately, is common in the workplace with about a third of employees subject to tongue lashings in front of the entire team. Notably, we witness this practice within sports.

NBA coaching legend and current New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson was disappointed about the recent loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, so he openly criticized the team on Twitter. Public criticism within sports is considered part of the game—after all, your job is to perform in front of large crowds. While some people believe it can turn around performance, for your team, it is considered bullying.

Giving criticism publicly, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, is considered a form of workplace bullying, which is defined as repeat mistreatment and abusive conduct that threatens, humiliates, intimidates or sabotages employees. About 27% of employees currently or previously suffer abuse—in the form of extreme public criticism primarily from their managers—at work.

Follow these tips to deliver constructive criticism in the right way, and you won’t be one of those managers.

  1. Be fair. Get your facts straight and frame them the right way. Tell the truth but don’t resort to low blows. You want your employee to improve, however, you split hairs if productivity increases through the quality of work declines. You should establish with your employee what went right, where things went wrong and then draw up a plan highlighting the strengths that can help them in developmental opportunities. The key is to motivate in private, not devastate in public.
  1. Keep it confidential. Jackson should not have shamed his team on social media—nothing can get you down more when the general public knows your leader undermines your performance. Address the issue behind closed doors in order to not ostracize the employee from the team. Follow the rule of thumb to praise in public and correct in private. Your team is an extension of you as a manager and a leader. If you bury them in public, what does that say about you? It is not a surefire method on the path to improvement.
  1. Don’t follow the misconception that public criticism improves performance—this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. When Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant criticized his teammates and his coaches in countless interviews, it sometimes led to improvements in how the team played—resulting in more wins and even some championships. Despite this continued practice by Bryant in recent years, the team’s playing quality seriously declined.

Giving criticism should be used to improve performance where needed and be balanced with noting the employee’s strengths and things they’ve done well. When it hurts one employee, it can hurt the entire team, as well as the bottom line of the business. Keep it clean and keep it discreet. You can dramatically turn around performance while simultaneously boosting employee morale when you give feedback the right way.


WorkCompass’s award-winning performance management software is built for progressive organisations. Some of the most successful organizations in the US use it to transform their appraisals from dreaded annual conversations focused on judging the past to ongoing coaching focused on improving performance for the future.

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