This week, the retail world witnessed just how damaging “open and honest” communication can be in the workplace. The CEO of unicorn suitcase brand Away was outed by The Verge for creating a toxic work environment that largely played out on a public Slack channel under the guise of transparency. And while it was horrifying to read, it also shed light on the fact that creating open and honest communication channels while fostering a positive culture of compassion and accountability is hard to do—the two appear to be mutually exclusive at times. But this is a false choice. It simply takes a lot of work to promote both honest communication and a safe workplace at the same time. Whether you’re a corporate team member or retail leader, these tips can help you create a workplace that is in-line with your brand values.

Different Circumstances Require Different Communication Avenues

The idea that one communication type—say a massive Slack channel for the whole company—will be appropriate for everything may sound simple, but it won’t create a great culture. Each individual has their own preference for how they would like to receive information, further complicating the matter. This means communication is situational, requiring different audiences and approaches for different outcomes.

  • Everyone. Some things need to be communicated broadly and publicly. These often include key hires, a change in direction or strategy that affects everyone, exciting financial results and even a disappointing outcome. The method depends on the content and the goal of your communication. With positive messages, written communication or even pre-recorded video can work well. You want everyone to feel the energy and excitement in the communication and should consider how that could be best conveyed. When communicating tough feedback or disappointment, especially to a group, it’s best to do this in person where the recipients can hear tone and see body language—important cues that get lost through written communication alone, especially with a posed headshot sitting next to the writer’s name. While delivering feedback and communicating future expectations is an important part of driving results, it’s also critical that the recipients of the communication are part of the solution and path forward, and don’t feel like they’re a hindrance to progress.
  • A few. In contrast to the above, there are times when communicating something to a smaller group is more appropriate, in particular when delivering negative feedback. In the example where one team—say the operations team—is falling behind on one of its deliverables, the best way to communicate expectations and discover a path forward is through a meeting with just that group or even only the leader. This allows the employees to become the heroes, the ones who solve the problem or devise a plan to catch up where they were behind, which will build confidence and inspire innovation in the long term. To determine if you should communicate to a small group or an individual, first set the goal of the communication. If the goal is to brainstorm a solution, a small group may work better; if it’s to set clear expectations, that should go to the leader who will then decide how to get the info to the group.
  • Make venting okay. Venting is inevitable, so you might as well accept it.
    Appropriate venting—expressing displeasure or annoyance at a circumstance or decision to one’s peers—can be productive. But, before you start encouraging everyone to have venting free-for-alls, be sure to set some parameters: Make it circumstantial, not personal. Complaining about a thing that happened is fine, picking apart a person is not. Spend equal time on the negative as you do on the positive. If your cohort complains for five minutes, spend five minutes working on solutions or talking about something positive. This will ensure that venting doesn’t hijack the culture you’ve worked so hard to create.

Whenever you’re deciding who to communicate with and how, work backward from your desired outcome. Once you can see the end, you’ll have a better idea of where to begin—which will allow you to foster a culture of both compassion and accountability.

There’s always something you can do to increase your Double//Vision.