How To Handle Tough Conversations On Zoom


Having tough conversations at work is hard no matter who’s involved. After all, nobody wants to receive bad news. Unfortunately, these types of conversations (whether it be bad news on a project or having to let someone go) are completely unavoidable. With the remote work and remote onboarding trends having no end in sight, HR professionals must equip themselves with the necessary skills to hold these tough conversations on Zoom. 

Remote Work Is Altering Workplace Communication Practices

According to recent surveys, approximately 23% of the workforce currently works remotely. More businesses are starting to open their doors, but remote work is here to stay for many companies.

With a fifth of the workforce working from home, businesses have to alter their workplace communication practices. Brands such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom have seen massive growth in subscribers over the past year as companies invested in these platforms. Organizations needed to ensure that their teams could continue working despite having to social distance. 

Zoom alone saw a massive increase in daily meeting participants, jumping from approximately 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to approximately 300 million daily meeting participants in October 2020. 

Of course, these meetings include various types of conversations. Many of them are about day-to-day business, while others are challenging conversations such as layoffs, furloughs, discipline, and other policy changes that require HR teams to handle tough conversations on Zoom and other digital platforms.  

5 Tips For Holding Tough Conversations On Zoom

While some people may find receiving difficult or upsetting news on a digital platform a bit easier to handle, that does not necessarily mean it makes it any easier to initiate these types of conversations. However, these conversations are much better than delivering tough news via text message or email. That’s because a video conversation at least allows tone of voice and facial expressions to help you convey the message, leaving very little room for confusion. Therefore, all HR teams should be trained to have these tough conversations on Zoom and other platforms.

1. Take Adequate Time To Prepare Beforehand

Tough conversations at work always require some preparation beforehand. Depending on the nature of the call, you’ll need to gather relevant research, statistics, or other documentation to help explain why this call needs to take place. 

If you’re not quite comfortable talking on camera yet, then you may want to practice on your own before the meeting takes place. Depending on the platform you use, you may be able to open the app and record yourself as you speak, helping you become more at ease with speaking on camera. If you need practice speaking with someone else, don’t be afraid to ask a friend, loved one, or even a colleague to hop on a call and do a practice call about any topic.

2. Never Delay The Call

When requesting a tough conversation on Zoom or another video messaging application, never delay the meeting longer than necessary. This is especially true if the other party involved knows that some negative news may be coming their way. 

By scheduling the call in a timely manner that works for both of you, you can help reduce unnecessary anxiety. Once the call has been scheduled, make sure you are on time (or preferably early) to ensure that the call can go off without an issue.

3. Keep The Video Call As Private As You Can

Once it is time for your call, you want to make sure you set up your computer or device in an area that is free from distractions and as private as possible. You’ll want to instruct the other party to do so as well. Tough conversations at work are hard enough to deal with without having unnecessary parties involved.

While you want these calls to be as private as possible, depending on the nature of the call, you may need to have a team leader or another HR team member on the call to act as a witness. Of course, there is always the option to record most meetings to prove what was said and how. However, it’s always better to have a witness involved, just as you would if the meeting was held in the office. Just make sure you clarify with the employee that another party will be included in the call to witness the conversation.

Another way to keep calls private is by adjusting how you name the meeting on the calendar invite. Keep the calendar invite title as neutral as possible. Many companies use software like Google Calendar to host meeting invitations, and colleagues will see the titles of any meetings employees have on their plate. You don’t want to share what the meeting is about with your company if you don’t have to.


4. Encourage Open Conversation

It doesn’t matter if the other party knows what the meeting is about or not – you always want to begin these video calls by encouraging open conversation. Whether it is regarding layoffs or other changes within the office, you want to make sure that the employee feels comfortable asking questions. 

While you may not have all the answers, you want them to understand that you still care. You know that this is a challenging conversation, after all. If they have questions, you want to make sure you deliver the answers in a kind manner. If you don’t have the answer, you need to ensure that they will get the answers they need from the appropriate individuals. 

5. Make Sure You’re Being Detailed When Delivering Your Message

Finally, while on your call, you need to make sure you speak clearly, slowly, and with as much detail as possible. This is why practicing ahead of time can be so valuable. Having these tough conversations on Zoom, Teams, or Meet can induce anxiety, so the person on the other end may be dealing with that in addition to the news you are trying to deliver. 

Taking your time to speak with your colleague and carefully explain everything ensures that no stone goes left unturned. Again, encouraging open communication also ensures that the other party involved genuinely understands what’s being discussed before the call ends.

The Best Practices For Delivering Tough News Via Zoom

We wanted to wrap up today’s article with a few best practices for delivering these kinds of conversations via Zoom.

  • Deliver tough news with your camera on at all times. Employees need to see your face, so the camera should be on at all times unless it’s an emergency.
  • Remove distractions from your background. Your employees should be able to focus on what you are telling them, so remove any distractions you can when hosting a meeting like this.
  • Know what you want out of the meeting beforehand. When you are preparing for the meeting, take a second to understand the ideal outcome of this tough meeting. It can be challenging to have these conversations, but if you know the outcome, you can feel successful if you’ve met it.
  • Hold space for questions. When asking if the employee has any questions, give them some time to process your request. Don’t be afraid to linger on this portion of the digital conversation.
  • Don’t forget to recap the conversation. Take a few minutes after the conversation to write up a recap and send it to the employee. Ensure that everyone is on the same page and ask your employee if they have any further questions or concerns.

Conclusion: Don’t Let Tough Conversations On Zoom Be Intimidating

Tough conversations at work are stressful enough without adding the elevated stress by delivering or receiving these messages via a video conference. Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed or anxious. With the right preparation and training, these calls don’t have to be as stressful as they may seem.

With the right tips and plenty of practice, your HR team will find that these tough conversations on Zoom are just like any other conversation that is traditionally held in the office. So make sure that your team receives plenty of training on digital communications, and you’ll find that they are more than prepared!

Do you want more Zoom tips? Check out our article 7 Ways To Prevent Virtual Onboarding Zoom Fatigue.