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How to Communicate When You Don't Have All the Answers

Posted by Spitfire Communications on Sep 23, 2020 11:15:00 AM
How to Communicate When You Don't Have All the Answers


Whether it’s expediting the candidate experience, enriching employee onboarding, streamlining Open Enrollment or tackling a one-off issue, it’s generally assumed that employees can look to their employers for insights, information and timely solutions. In fact, 67% of employees believe their employer offers the most effective response to the Coronavirus pandemic.


And, while it’s more critical than ever for employers to communicate through challenges their workers are facing, it’s equally important to admit the unknowns. If you don’t have all the answers, it’s okay to say so. Be as transparent as possible about the ways your organization is working to get answers, respond to obstacles and uncertainty in a timely manner, and don’t be afraid to overcommunicate as needed.


How to Frame the Message When You Don’t Know It All

  • Show empathy for the health and wellness of your employees and their families. While the livelihood of the business is important, your people need to feel cared for and supported so they can bring their best to work.
  • Recognize the unknown. If you’re uncertain, own up to it. Communicate what you do know and be honest about what you don’t. This will reinforce your credibility in future communications.
  • Explain that you’re actively trying to find solutions to critical issues of uncertainty and you’ll share your findings as soon as you have them.

7 Tips for Communicating in Challenging Times

#1: Be Honest

A culture of openness and honesty – where employees feel secure in asking the uncomfortable questions – builds trust over time. Once this trust is established, the need for hypersensitive communication subsides. Instead of beating around the bush, create a space where employees can expect straightforward answers. If you do, they’ll be more likely to accept a response like “we don’t have all the answers” when it arises, because a track record of credibility has already been built.

#2: Maintain Open Channels of Communication

Resist the urge to keep communication on the output only setting. Create numerous channels where employees can share their own insight, ask questions and source more information. Virtual comment boxes, open door policies and online chat rooms are all prime examples of two-way communication channels that can effectively support your employees. Moreover, it gives HR professionals the chance to tap the collective pulse of the organization.

#3: Be Transparent

Not all information can or should be shared with employees. In these cases, it’s crucial to be transparent as to why. For publicly traded companies, certain rules and regulations could dictate which information can be brought to light. Explain these nuances to your employees, why they exist, and that they’ll be made privy to key information at a more suitable time.

#4: Keep Track of Questions Being Asked, and Provide Answers When You Can

Make it simple to capture the questions and concerns that arise from each employee communication channel. Whether it’s through a dedicated HR assistant, automated platform or technological solution, strive to track all employee input so you can enlist leaders and managers to help address FAQs and concerns.

#5: Keep Employees in the Loop

Your employees are one of your most vital audiences. Their perception can be taken outside the workspace to reinforce your unique employer brand. If that brand becomes synonymous with evasion or deception, things could go south fast. Whenever possible, deliver crucial messages to your employees first, before they hear it through the grapevine. Equipping them with important information can also help you disseminate it quickly and accurately.

#6: Follow Up

Even if you don’t have all the answers, which you very well may not, it’s still essential to reply to employees as soon as possible. When you do get the answers they seek, follow up with them immediately. Some things can’t wait until Monday.

#7: Keep the Conversation Going

Create opportunities for feedback on a regular basis. Survey employees, asking them for feedback about your success (or failure) at arming them with the right information. Do they feel your organization has been open and honest? Are they readily kept in the loop? Are the messages they receive accurate and credible? Which issues would they like to know more about? By finding answers to questions about the communication process itself, your organization can start to hone in on which channels and strategies are working well, which could use improvement and if the cadence and frequency, even when faced with the unknown, is meeting employees’ expectations.


During these unprecedented times, employers are presented with a unique opportunity. They can spend their time tediously constructing inaccurate or misleading messages about information they simply don’t know. Or, they can find new and effective ways to master employee communication and build stronger, more trusting relationships than ever before.


And it all starts with admitting they don’t have all the answers.


Tags: Employee Communications, Employee Engagement, Open Enrollment, communication strategy, 2020, COVID

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Spitfire’s very own blog, where we’ll shed light on best practices, insights, and experiences in the field of employee communications

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