Communication Skills for Leadership: How to Answer Employee Questions

Posted by Elizabeth Levey
July 15, 2015

by Elizabeth Levey

elizabeth-levey-1We’ve already covered how to ask your boss anything, but what if you’re the boss (or supervisor or manager), and your employee comes to you with a request?  Maybe it’s a question or issue that you’re prepared to address, or maybe it takes you completely off-guard.  Regardless, here are a few communication skills tips to handle those moments when you may be put on-the-spot:

1. Be an active listener.  We all know by now the importance and value of active listening during a presentation.  The same can applied in a more intimate, one-on-one setting.  Don’t simply tune out your employee's questions and start immediately thinking of your response; truly listen to what he or she is saying and avoid rushing to judgment. Show respect by offering non-verbal cues like smiling and strong eye contact to let him know you are truly focused on what is being said. 

2. Choose to build the relationship. Once again, our business etiquette comes into play: the “how” matters.  There may be a simple or impulsive answer to an employee issue or request that allows you to communication-skills-for-leadership“win,” but at what cost?  Yes — maybe you can’t believe your ears that your employee is asking to telecommute 2 days per week. You may be laughing hysterically on the inside, thinking “that’s ridiculous!” But is that really the best response?  You risk alienating and discouraging your employee.  Consider alternatives, not necessarily in the outcome, but in how you communicate it. A simple “Let me think about your request for a few days and do some research” may still result in a “no” for your employee, but leaves him feeling validated and valued instead.

3. Follow-up and follow through. Mutually agree upon a time frame to circle back to close out the issue or request.  If your follow-up will take a meeting form, send the meeting request within a few hours of the initial meeting.  If you’ll send an email as follow-up, create a calendar reminder for yourself to make sure you remember.  If you still have no answer or resolution by the agreed upon date, communicate that to your employee and reschedule.  Remember, it probably took some amount of courage for them to come to you in the first place; don’t torture them further by falling into radio silence.

When developing our presentation skills, we learn that everything we do with our voices and bodies communicates something to our audience, and the same applies when communicating with employees when they present us with requests. Turn up your self-awareness and make sure that your visual and vocal communication is in alignment with the message you’re delivering.  Add in your principles of business etiquette, and you’re sure to have a successful and effective interaction when dealing with any employee’s request.

What is your process for handling employee requests? Let us know how you do things in the comments below!

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