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.
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.
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:
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.
Learn more ways to encourage questions from your team with Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done.