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Praise in Public, Criticize in Private or Keep it in the Family

In his postgame press conference, Bruce Boudreau, the coach of the Washington Capitals, found himself in the unenviable position of having to answer for his team's lousy performance against the New Jersey Devils. To make matters worse, his star player, Alexander Ovechkin, along with his teammate, Alexander Semin, could be heard laughing loudly only a few steps away with their friend Ilya Kovalchuk—one of the best players on the opposing team.

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In his post-game press conference, Bruce Boudreau, the coach of the Washington Capitals, found himself in the unenviable position of having to answer for his team's lousy performance against the New Jersey Devils. To make matters worse, his star player, Alexander Ovechkin, along with his teammate, Alexander Semin, could be heard laughing loudly only a few steps away with their friend Ilya Kovalchuk—one of the best players on the opposing team.

It was such a distraction that a reporter finally asked, "Does it bother you that the Alexes are joyously fraternizing with the enemy steps away from your press conference?"

Boudreau, clearly miffed, paused for a second and measured his words carefully: "I'll reserve my thoughts on that, if you don't mind."

In any sport where athletes are paid exorbitant salaries, the least they can do is dignify the loss. But to flaunt convention so unabashedly, that’s enough to skyrocket the blood pressure of any coach.

The fact is, Bruce Boudreau took a few seconds to compose himself, and then gave the only response a responsible manager would give.

In the article, "David Bradford on Teams, Families and Privacy," this idea of "praise in public, criticize in private" is explored in relationship to the family. Bradford`s argument is that there are times when you can criticize family members in front of the family, but never in front of their friends.

This is a great point. Boudreau may not have been able to articulate his thoughts to the media, but if his Washington Capitals is a family he shouldn’t have a problem voicing his displeasure in front of the group.

With your own organization, abiding by the “praise in public, criticize in private” philosophy can help contribute to a smooth sailing ship, but there are times when you can invoke the family clause with integrity.

In our personal lives, we have our immediate families and our extended families and friends. At work, we have the people we work with directly (departments, teams, etc.) vs. the rest of the company. Criticizing an employee in front of the people they are comfortable with can have a sense of family appropriateness in certain situations, and can even prove to be beneficial to the group, while criticizing an employee in front of people he or she is less comfortable with can increase the odds of having a negative outcome.