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Zoom Etiquette For Friends: How Can I Tactfully Turn Down Invitations?

Published: May 6, 2020 | Last Updated: August 22, 2021 By | Reply Continue Reading
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Zoom screenWith the popularity of Zoom, Skype, the new Google Meet, and other free video conferencing services soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising that the issue of Zoom etiquette has come to the forefront. Not only have these services enabled people to connect virtually with co-workers but also with friends and family. 

In terms of the unofficial “rules,” for example, hosts are encouraged to introduce all the participants and signal the beginning and end of a meeting. Everyone on a call is urged to master the skill of not talking over others, limiting private conversations that might bore the rest of the group, and exercising some caution about personal grooming and choice of backgrounds. With respect to the latter, many of us cringed when we saw the video of the GMA reporter Will Reeve, who was inadvertently caught on camera without his pants!

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How to tactfully set boundaries on Zoom

Olivia, a reader of The Friendship Blog, has raised another issue about Zoom that hasn’t been discussed very much: 

What if you really don’t want to Zoom? How do you turn down invitations without hurting someone else, or being seen as unfriendly or a party pooper? 

She wrote:

I’m finding it difficult to tactfully decline Zoom and Skype requests—especially when they come from people with whom I’m not particularly close—or would simply prefer to keep at a socially casual distance. Before the COVID pandemic, I tended to avoid long phone chats unless they were with out of town friends or special family members—of if they were for work, of course. 

Now, suddenly, everyone is (understandably) lonely and they’re all scheduling video chats a few times a week. I just don’t have energy for that, and I am just not a fan of zooming with lots of people. Given the choice, I’d prefer one on one talks on the phone, when I’m up for it.

It’s especially hard when we’re all stuck at home to tell someone you’re “too busy” to zoom or video chat when you simply aren’t up for it—especially someone you don’t know well and prefer to keep at arm’s length. I’m getting a lot of pressure from a casual friend, a friend I only meet for lunch every couple of months or so, who suddenly thinks we should be talking on the phone weekly. Yikes.

How to turn down an invite

Here are a few thoughts for Olivia and others so you don’t feel “zoomed” out or do that to another person:

Social connections are important while we are socially distancing. Even though “we’re all in this together” during this time of high anxiety, it’s important to monitor and be aware of our own feelings about the number and types of social interactions that make us feel more or less anxious. 

Olivia, if Zoom or any other form of social connectedness doesn’t feel right, you need to set boundaries and say “no.” Some people, especially those who are introverted, simply don’t feel a need to increase connections right now. Others can’t spare the time.

It sounds like you may feel bad for this casual friend who may be more lonely than you because of her personality or living situation. It also seems as though she values her friendship with you more than you value yours with her. 

It sounds like this is the type of casual friendship that feels better in small doses—even under the best of circumstances—so I can imagine how this could feel grating right now. 

If you want to maintain this casual relationship at arm’s length and not hurt your friend’s feelings, you need to suggest an alternative that feels more comfortable for you (e.g., checking in with each other every two or three weeks via email). If you simply acquiesce to her needs, you will become increasingly resentful.    

Raise the issue next time your friend invites you on Zoom. Be careful to couch your words in a way that is honest but that isn’t likely to be hurtful to your friend. You can say something like “I’m just not up to phone or video conversations right now and I never was a “phone person:.I hope you’ll understand.” 

I take it from your note that you work remotely, either full or part-time. Sometimes friends aren’t aware that other people are still pressured for time, either because they are working at home or because stay-at-home policies have created additional housekeeping burdens or child/eldercare responsibilities. Others may spend a good part of their day participating in business meetings on zoom. If any of these apply to you, you can also explain that you simply don’t have the time for weekly chats and that you really like to have quiet time after work and preparing dinner for your family. 

More generally, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to point out the importance of friends being especially sensitive to each other during this stressful time. This entails figuring out mutually satisfying ways to connect. Often, this happens naturally but if it doesn’t, good friends need to be forthright, communicate their preferences and negotiate an arrangement that satisfies everyone, including when and how to stay in touch (e.g, phone, email, texting, or video conferencing) and for what length of time).

Olivia, it’s great that you’re in touch with your feelings. That’s an important first step. And you’re definitely not alone. A recent article in USA Today discussed a phenomenon many people are feeling, dubbed “Zoom fatigue.” 

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