Putting Employees at Ease to Question Policies and Other Changes

Article main image
Apr 21, 2020
This article is part of a series called HR Communication Corner.

If salespeople learn anything about selling, they understand this foundational truth: Questions lead to customers. The customer who asks no questions rarely buys. Questions show interest or concern. So your sales team welcomes questions about your product or service as a first step in the buying process. Their success is determined by how well they turn those questions into closed sales.

The same principles apply as HR rolls out new policies or communicates any kind of change throughout the organization. As long as employees are asking no questions, they’re not buying what you’re selling! Your message has hit the wall and bounced away.

How to generate questions to gain buy-in

First, consider the physical setup. Stay at eye level with the person or small group when possible. (Of course, if you’re talking to a large group, you’ll need to stand to be seen and to maintain control.)

At all costs, avoid standing behind a barrier like a lectern or table. Walk freely out among your listeners when presenting information. Physical barriers create psychological barriers.

In Q&A periods, after you’ve announced something controversial or disappointing, expect and encourage questions. Otherwise, employees will likely react—but not necessarily to you. They’ll leave the meeting murmuring to each other and deny you the opportunity to clarify confusion and persuade with more information and reasoning.

When you ask for questions, phrasing matters, ask, “What questions or comments do you have?” rather than “Are there any questions?” The phrasing “What questions or comments do you have?” implies that you expect and want to hear questions, feedback, and discussion.

On the other hand, “Are there any questions” suggests that you think you’ve been perfectly clear. Only the brave will raise questions or mention what they’re feeling, leaving you no opportunity to explore the situation on a deeper level.

How to create a comfortable conversation in a sensitive situation

Never consider silence as agreement or compliance. You need to hear feedback and put fears of change aside.

To put the layperson—particularly those who are less assertive—at ease when asking for further explanation, incentive, or reasoning regarding a change, try one of these phrases as a lead-in:

  • “One thing that others have asked me about the new policy is X. So I’ll just begin the questions by answering that first.” Blah, blah, blah.
  • “Something that’s typically confusing to people when organizations adopt policies like this is X. What questions do you have on that issue?” Let the nods or raised hands direct your answer.
  • “I’m sure you’re probably going to have questions about X because that part of the policy can be quite complex. Who would like more examples on that?” Again, let their body language launch you into deeper explanation.
  • “A couple of things that were quite confusing to me when I first did my research may need more explanation. Anybody else confused about X or Y?” Your phrasing puts you on equal footing as the audience members and tends to encourage them to be upfront about their reservations rather than wonder.
  • “I’m expecting you’ll have several questions about how you’ll implement this change in your department. Who wants to raise a specific question so the whole group understands how the new policy might apply?”

These lead-ins take the sting out of being the first to “raise an issue” or express doubt or dismay.

Remember: Feelings not expressed often explode later at the most inappropriate time and manner.

This article is part of a series called HR Communication Corner.