Company culture is a hot term floating around many employers across the United States right now. According to Kate Gonger of, Google recently released a statement to its employees stating that, “[Google would like to continue] its open culture while enforcing respectful communication among employees.”

Some industries, technology in particular, see the terms “open culture” and “respectful communication” as sometimes difficult to reconcile.

Respectful vs. Disrespectful Communication

A workplace with a positive company culture allows employees to voice feedback about the company and fellow employees, even when the feedback is negative. When an employee wishes to express critical feedback of a company policy or fellow employee, what rules dictate if that communication is respectful or disrespectful? If employees are expected to know the difference between the two, employers must differentiate and communicate at an even keener level.

Did You Know? As a benefit of membership, NAE’s HR professionals will review your employee handbook and suggest revisions to your company’s policies, expectations for employees, and ensure compliance with state and federal law.

A Google spokesperson told the New York Times, “… some conduct and discussion in the workplace crosses a line, and we don’t tolerate it. We enforce strong policies, and work with affected employees, to ensure everyone can do their work free of harassment, discrimination and bullying.”

The phrasing “some conduct and discussion in the workplace crosses a line” is a testament to the complexity of identifying acceptable and unacceptable communication. If a company with the ample resources of Google struggles to draw the line between respectful and disrespectful communications, smaller companies must remain even more vigilant in defining what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Disrespectful communication is not just toxic to a positive company culture, it can also be expensive and become a liability. Google is a prime example where harassment and trolling can lead to lawsuits if not remedied efficiently. According to Gonger, Google is the named defendant in approximately 300 federal court cases.

Helpful Feedback in a Positive Company Culture

  1. Avoid assessments about effort and focus on assessments of information quality.
  2. Avoid ambiguity when giving feedback. Specificity will help the recipient of the feedback carry forward.
  3. Condition your feedback to be both descriptive and tactful.
  4. Be careful about sending mixed feedback. If a project requires improvement, describe what can be improved instead of complimenting the project originator’s effort.
  5. Focus on providing observations that can be supported with evidence.
  6. Remember that the loudest voice is not necessarily the correct voice. Speak calmly and clearly whenever possible.


Shape Company Culture Around the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is generally recognized as: do to others what you want them to do to you. This generalization is a good rule of thumb, but it is not exhaustive in practice. If one person can handle brutally honest feedback devoid of tact, that does not mean every person will favor feedback delivered in that way. The Golden Rule in the workplace more closely means: respect the thoughts and work of others because mutual respect drives progress.

There isn’t an exhaustive rule book full of every acceptable utterance at work. Employers must regularly reaffirm what a company’s culture should look like, and employees should be encouraged to regularly seek clarification if a particular type of communication is in question.

Nevada Association of Employers is here to be your go-to resource for all things human resources, and training. We offer structured training, webinars, on-site training, and free events. If our trusted team of HR professionals cannot help you directly, we will help you find the resources you need. Contact us today!