Ask an MHM Expert: Implementation Specialist Becca Lovett, licensed and certified Speech Language Pathologist 

Health benefit professionals often engage in sensitive conversations with employees about their personal medical needs and concerns. These conversations can help the employees learn about and take advantage of existing benefits, so they stay healthy and continue to enjoy and excel at work.  

MyHealthMath has spent years designing a product focused on building trust with employees to help them optimally choose and use their health benefits. In this article, we share strategies we use in our interactions, all of which help build safe and respectful conversations that invite trust. 

Listen first 

It sounds simple, but one of the best ways to start the conversation is to listen to the employee: hear their needs; and ask them to share their questions and what they want to learn from the conversation.  

Asking open-ended questions is a tried-and-true technique for engaging conversations! An open-ended question will invite more information than a ‘yes or no’ question. Not sure how to hone in on a specific health need? Try starting with “tell me about…” which is an effective way for them to give you a more comprehensive answer.  

Keep it clear 

Be clear and direct when answering an employee’s questions even when it may be an awkward or sensitive topic. Health care and health benefits are incredibly complex, so remember to break information down into simple terms. For example, if someone is asks about a more sensitive medical condition like autism, cancer, or conditions affecting private body parts. In these instances, it’s important not to provide vague information simply because the condition is difficult to talk about. Instead answer the questions directly.  

Don’t approach all conversations the same 

While staying positive is always important, each person is unique, and your approach should change depending on their needs. You can adjust by reading the employee’s body language—some people may respond best by keeping the energy light, while others may appreciate a positive tone that still respects the gravity of their medical concerns. Similarly, some people will want to spend a lot of time discussing their concerns, while other people may be in a rush, so always be mindful of their time.  

Come prepared 

With sensitive conversations, you’ll want employees to know you’ve done your research and are prepared to talk to answer their questions. Beforehand, review any information they’ve shared about their medical needs and how it intersects with the benefits offered, so you’re ready for their questions.  

Clarify confidentiality 

Make sure employees understand any confidentiality requirements. MyHealthMath analysts always open our conversations with employees by clarifying that any medical information shared will remain confidential—this builds trust. If an employee is not comfortable sharing certain details about their usage, we let them know why we’re asking the questions we’re asking. Then, they can make an informed decision about what to share with us.  

Change your tactics if talking with someone in person/video vs on the phone

Reading employees’ facial expressions gives you critical insight into how someone responds to your question, which can help you adjust your questions and tone accordingly. If you’re talking by phone, you can often still hear discomfort by listening for pitch changes and uncomfortable pauses. Lastly, remember that people can hear smiles over the phone, so, try to smile and keep it conversational even if employees’ can’t see your face.  

Never diagnose an employee

Our analysts have found that it’s critical to carefully phrase answers so as not to imply a diagnosis.  Specific medical questions or concerns should be acknowledged and treated with respect, while always referred to the employee’s primary care physician. It’s always okay to tell the employee directly that you’re not in the position to diagnose.  

Never answer a question you don’t know

Honesty builds trust, so it’s okay to tell an employee you don’t know the answer to a question. Even if you don’t know the answer to an employee’s question, keep your tone positive throughout the conversation. If you start to sound nervous, you’ll risk losing their trust. Tell the employee you’re unsure of the answer but will work to gather more information.