How To Have Difficult Conversations Virtually: Having a difficult conversation is challenging to do when it’s in person, and having that conversation virtually adds an additional layer of complexity. With remote and hybrid work here to stay, this is a skill that all leaders need to master. With the right preparation, a virtual conversation will be entirely as effective as it would be if it were held in person.

Here’s what you need to do to have a successful virtual conversation:

Always use video.

Nonverbal cues are just as important as the words that are said in a conversation, so using video is an absolute requirement. Being on video also holds you accountable to stay fully present in the conversation. Consider using the blur background feature to keep the focus solely on each person, rather than what’s in view around them. Blurring the background eliminates visual distractions and makes it easier to stay focused.

Turn off self-view.

You always want to have the other person visible on your screen, and you should never be looking at yourself during the conversation. You can’t see yourself when you’re talking to someone in person, so there’s no reason to see yourself when the conversation is virtual. Before you start the call, do a video check to make sure your camera angle is good, there’s nothing stuck in your teeth, and your background is clean. Then hide self-view so your focus remains solely on the other person.

Eliminate distractions.

It’s much easier to get distracted on a video call than when you’re sitting across the table from someone. To ensure your focus stays solely on the task at hand, mute notifications on both your phone and computer. Don’t let anything shift your focus away from the conversation.

Pay extra attention to body language and other nonverbal cues.

It can be challenging to read someone’s body language when they’re sitting across the table from you, and it’s even harder to do virtually. Pay close attention to body language to gauge how the other person is reacting. Be on the lookout for any physical or vocal changes that happen during the conversation. Watch for signs like changes in posture, fidgeting, or frequent looking down or away from the screen. Also listen for audible cues such as shifts to one-word answers or changes in the tone of their voice.

Be aware of your body language and tone of voice as well. Do your best to maintain composure and not let your emotions get the best of you. If at any point things feel like they’re getting out of control, it’s best to take a brief pause to regroup. Set a timer for five minutes, have everyone turn off their video, take some deep breaths, then come back together and resume the conversation.

Allow additional time for responses.

Get comfortable with extended periods of silence, as it’s important to give the person who’s receiving feedback time to process and form a response. With video calls, there can be a slight delay, so that time could be extended by a couple of seconds. Pauses between speaking also tend to feel longer than they actually are, especially on video calls. Embrace the uncomfortable silence and wait a few seconds longer than you feel like you should before you interject or prompt for a response.

Remember the basics of having difficult conversations.

There are a few key things you need to do before, during, and after a difficult conversation. A difficult conversation should never be done spur of the moment, you need to prepare for it. Start by gathering all relevant documentation and data. Then think about how you’ll frame the conversation as well as any objections that might come up. During the conversation, be mindful of the language you use, pay attention to your body language, and give the other person ample time to respond. End the conversation with a concrete plan for follow-up, next steps, and commitments.

Having a difficult conversation may never be easy, but with the right preparations you can make it a productive and successful discussion, whether it’s virtual or in person.

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