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2 months ago by Melissa Kilday

How to answer difficult questions

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Line Managers, Business Owners and Leaders have been asked difficult questions recently due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Employee queries are becoming increasingly more frequent but, unfortunately,  difficult to respond to due to the fact that we don’t have all the answers. This isn’t unique to COVID-19, in business there are always issues and topics that raise uncomfortable conversations.
We wanted to compile some top tips on how to handle difficult conversations, because 2020 is throwing us some real curve balls!

Understand the root of the question
Some questions will be asked out of different emotions, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, ambition, curiosity etc. It’s vital you seek first to understand the reason behind the query in front of you. That should help you devise the best response in the most appropriate way.
Finding the root of the question and fully understanding it will allow you to be prepared for any reaction that may follow during the conversation.
It’s important to allow the person to express their emotion freely too and feel safe doing so otherwise they may leave the conversation dissatisfied.

Take time to respond
If you’re asked a difficult question, give yourself time to determine how you want to respond, having processed the information. This tactic­­­ is evident when politicians or vocal celebrities don’t answer the question instantly, they’ll repeat or rephrase the question as a lead in. If they do it well, that method gives an opportunity to think of ways to reposition the information. Utilise that when you’re  approached about difficult topics, it may give you those vital seconds to create the right response, but if you need more time just say so and get back to them with a well thought out reply.

Don’t get defensive
It’s important not to let people hit your emotional triggers when you’re answering questions. If that happens during a 1:1 or a business conversation and you get defensive, you lose. Maintain your confidence by maintaining your composure. During this time not a lot of organisations have all the answers, and some employees may get emotional and question the businesses sustainability and methods which can raise emotions and cause business owners and leaders to get defensive.
Make sure you communicate your point that even if you don’t have all the answers right now, give them the answers you do have, even if that only clears up half of the query. It will allow the employee to leave the conversation feeling more informed that they were previously.

Be honest
It’s easy to tell white lies to avoid a difficult conversation, that applies to personal and professional life. But you need to establish and understand your core values and how you want to be perceived amongst your employees. If you don’t have all the answers or feel unsure on how to answer something specific, be honest about it. Most employees will appreciate your transparency and understand no one has all the answers all of the time.

Communicate your position
If you feel you are not in a position to answer a question then explain why. If It’s because you don’t have time to go into the detail needed, ensure you rebook for a time when it’s more suitable, allowing you to obtain external help where appropriate. If you feel you're not the right person to answer that question due to knowledge around a specific subject or that the question may need input from different departments such as HR or finance, make sure you communicate that. Employees would much rather be given the correct answer from the right people, than to be passed between departments and various business leaders seeking answers. By explaining this you gain credibility, it shows your dedication to business synergy and also shows that you want the employee to get the right answer.

Our number one piece of advice for this specific situation (COVID -19) would be to keep employees up to date on any changes as soon as possible, be as honest as you can about the businesses position and try to keep people engaged and motivated. If you would like additional guidance on ways to do this, please let us know and we will share our help guides with you.