Dos and Don’ts of Reprimanding

When reprimanding, what you do is often not as important as what you don’t do.  Since no one really enjoys a reprimand, it’s easy for people to be put on the defensive when receiving criticism.  I suggest remembering these “don’ts” when you must reprimand an individual.  If you don’t observe these points, you may find that people become less concerned with listening to you and more concerned with fighting you off.

1.  Don’t attack someone personally.  Never begin a reprimand with a statement such as, “Listen Fred, you idiot, …”  Address the problem at hand.  Be specific about what was done incorrectly.  It is never okay to insult a person just because you are upset.

2.  Don’t store up reprimands.  By this I mean don’t wait “for a good time” to deliver one or more reprimands.  The best time to give a reprimand is immediately after the incorrect behavior or action has occurred.  If you wait a week or so to discuss the problem with the individual, and then throw in some other problems you have observed in the past months, your impact on that person’s behavior will not be very effective.  Accumulated griefs and problems will only make you feel bad.  When you do finally “dump” on the person, there will be so much to digest, and the error so far removed from the actual event, you’ll just end up blowing off a lot of steam, which will have little or no impact or effect on behavior.

3.  Don’t threaten people.  Such threats will either immobilize them with fear or cause considerable resentment.  Stick to the point.  Point out the error or incorrect behavior.  Then reaffirm them by telling them they’re okay—but their actions need to be modified.

4.  Don’t reprimand people in public.  Public fireworks, such as chewing out an employee in front of a customer, is a technique used only by bullies.  It’s thoughtless, damaging, and embarrassing for everyone.  If you have occasion to reprimand a person, do it privately.

Before you give a reprimand—think!  If someone has done something wrong you must ask yourself, “Should he or she have known better?” If the answer is “No” then the person is obviously still unfamiliar with his or her assigned responsibilities or task.  In this case, Do Not Reprimand.  Never reprimand a beginner—be it an experienced employee working in a new position or your own child learning to tie his shoelaces.  It will only cause confusion or outright discouragement.  In this instance, your role as a manager is to help, or redirect, the person who is having a problem.

However, if a person should have known better, then you must ask yourself, “Did they make the mistake deliberately, or might it have been because they lacked confidence?”  If the problem revolves around confidence, Do Not Reprimand. You need to determine the reason for the problem causing this lack of confidence.  It could be that there is a new situation which is unsettling to an experienced worker.  For example, perhaps a long-time sales clerk makes many errors on the new cash register.  If so, the reason is probably a lack of confidence with the buttons or the new routine required when ringing up sales.  In such a situation, a supportive managerial style is required.  No one needs to reprimand this clerk. Rather, the clerk needs some training and some practice on the new register, coupled with support from an understanding boss.  Reprimands have no place in this example.

Remember to only reprimand deliberate, regressive performance or behavior.

3 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts of Reprimanding

  1. Ken,
    These are critical filters for reprimanding. I still use your One Minute Manager as the quintessential lesson on accountability. Clarity of goal. Look for something done right. Look for something not like it should be. If it is not as it should be, it is critical to ask ‘Why?’ To your note above, if they don’t know, then correct that first. Never do it publicly. Never make it personal.
    I hope to be able illustrate how I use your lessons on accountability in person with you one day. I talk about your book in my latest book, Leaderslip, from Dust Jacket Productions. You can find it on Amazon or on my website.
    Thanks for speaking to leaders about things that matter.
    You can follow a 21st Century leadership blog at
    My best,

  2. Ken,

    I thank you and Sacramento (will) be thanking you too by my example of myself spreading the faith so to speak.

    Your student (Entreprenurial Business),


  3. Ken, thanks for your advice.
    I work in Asia, where management and workers are in a cluster
    like a spider web full of titles, rather than a western traditional
    corporate ladder heirarchy business model.
    It is difficult to create business speak which can fuse the two very different worlds into one culture.
    But I tried my best, stayed positive, didn’t accuse nor made
    it personal.
    Now I just have to be confident that my leadership will circulate thru this strange bubble I work in.
    Thanks again,

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