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September 27, 2021

Getting Difficult Questions from Your Employees? 3 Tips to Facilitate Dialogue and Understanding


Difficult questions. We all get them. Particularly in this challenging period, there’s no shortage of tough questions on people’s minds, with employees wondering whether and when they’ll go back to the office or about safety protocols and childcare once they’ve returned.

In my latest book, Heart First: Lasting Leader Lessons from a Year that Changed Everything, I devote an entire chapter to leader tips for answering tough questions. I often find that with just a little preparation, leaders can accomplish a lot just by educating employees and putting some of their concerns to rest.

Being prepared and practicing these three tried-and-true techniques can help you field with ease that challenging employee question (or reporter who’s looking for a compelling angle).

3 Tips to Facilitate Dialogue and Understanding

Before we get into the specific tips, remember that it’s always best to answer the question, as best you can. And directly. We’ve all heard non-answers and know what that feels like to be on the receiving end of some babble. Or someone who thinks “spin” can take the place of “truth.” Your employees know the score, and your credibility (or lack of it) will be front and center in how you answer those tough questions.

Tip 1: Prepare Yourself

Anticipate the questions you’re most likely to get. You can do that by addressing these simple points:

  • What is on people’s minds?
  • What are the toughest questions you’re likely to get?
  • What’s the best way to respond, and what messages do you need to get across?

Tip 2: Practice (out loud) answering the questions that are likely to be the toughest, and keep these points in mind as you do

  • Think about the perspective your employees will bring to the discussion
  • Demonstrate empathy as you answer questions – put yourself in their shoes
  • Be respectfully authentic. Being honest and who you are doesn’t give any of us a pass to be rude or intentionally offensive
  • Employ the 3 + 1 communications approach:
    • What we know …
    • What we don’t know …
    • What we’re working on finding out …
    • Proactively bust myths …

Tip 3: Bridge

Bridging helps you get back on track if questions are starting to pull you down a path that isn’t helpful or distract you from the key points you’re trying to get across. Here are two key steps for successful bridging:

  • Address the question being asked, but don’t stop there
  • Use key words or phrases as a bridge to get back to a point you want to make

You can bridge to a key message by using some phrases like these:

  • "However …"
  • "Something else that may be of interest …"
  • "I can’t speculate on that but what I can tell you is …"
  • "What you should know is …"
  • "The most important question we should be asking is …"
  • "Before we go too far down that path, let me add …"

Is it Ever Okay to Ignore a Question?

Should you just ignore certain questions? No! You should never just ignore a question you don’t like. You need to address it, even if it is just to say you don’t have the answer at this time. Then use your bridging technique to get back to what it is you want people to know.

When you apply these tips, you’ll be ready to answer all sorts of questions that help instill confidence that you’re doing your best to keep the team as informed and “in the loop” as possible. That goes a long way toward building trust, engagement and buy-in from your employees.

What are some of the toughest questions you’re facing from employees today, and how are you demonstrating strong leadership in the way you respond?

David Grossman

Now more than ever, leaders play a pivotal role in connecting, calming, and inspiring their teams. A big part of that is leading with Heart First – click below to learn more about Heart First and order yours today:

Click to learn more and order a copy of Heart First

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