Wanna hear a scary story? This one’s about somebody being professionally ghosted. *spookiness intensifies*
Morra Aarons-Mele, a Boston-based marketing consultant, thought she caught the perfect client soon after launching her business, Women Online, a strategic communications firm that mobilizes women for good. The client asked her for a proposal, which she carefully crafted. Then he asked for some changes to the scope and budget. Done.
However, after Morra sent over the revision, she didn’t hear back for months. She’d follow up to no avail, until one day, the client reached back out and suggested they meet for breakfast to discuss next steps. The two met up at a local restaurant and agreed to begin work. Morra picked up the bill, excited for her new business venture.
She never heard a single word from him ever again.
When most of us hear the term “ghosted,” images of failed relationships from the online dating world come to mind—but ghosting has crept into the workplace.
Professional ghosting is when a business contact suddenly becomes unresponsive to all forms of communication, without explanation. And similarly to ghosting in the dating world, it can leave the other party feeling confused, let down, and disappointed.
Much of this professional ghosting has taken place in the field of recruitment—a candidate stops responding to emails, skips an interview, or signs a contract and then backs out.
However, ghosts come in all shapes and sizes. Desiré Greene, a managing partner of the organization firm Luckett & Liles, has seen her fair share of them.
“I have seen people ‘ghost’ assignments—simply ignore deadlines and avoid any communication regarding the task. Potential business partners or collaborators may ‘ghost’ each other if they decide to go in a different direction and want to avoid breaking the news,” says Greene. “Also, employees who are on their way out may ghost colleagues to avoid last minute assignments or due to bad feelings.”
In other words, for many, no response has becometheresponse.
Some career experts claim that being professionally ghosted is on the rise because recruiters have been doing it to candidates for years. It’s nothing new, the trend has just flipped and become more prevalent.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in about two decades and the job market is getting stronger. Workers have more options. If they don’t like the look and feel of a certain job, it’s not too difficult for them to go and find something better.
Throw in the fact that technology has changed the way we communicate and we’re looking at a perfect storm for flaking out at work. Texts, emails, and communication apps like Slack have made it all too easy to ignore a message.
“We need to play the long game in our careers now more than ever.”
Now, let’s pretend you’ve been professionally ghosted. While it may be tempting to complain or call the person out, it’s best to keep things professional. You never know who you’re going to work with in the future, so avoid burning any bridges.
“We need to play the long game in our careers now more than ever, not sever potentially rich connections unwittingly through lack of contact,” says Laura Izard, a partner in talent acquisition at PA Consulting. Our networks tend to be a lot tighter than we think.
When it comes to working with larger organizations, things can move along at a slower pace. In addition, some people just need a friendly nudge, so don’t be hesitant to follow up a few times before you chalk it up to a loss.
If you directly manage a ghoster, don’t let it slide, advises Desiré Greene. “Hold them accountable but also provide coaching if you sense the problem stems from lack of experience,” she recommends. It’s crucial to establish a culture in which feedback is given and ghosting is not tolerated.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of communicating strictly through email or a messaging app. But when we do that, we give up some of the mojo that helps build relationships of depth and attachment.
“We are losing the art of face-to-face connection and that makes it a lot easier to ‘drop off’ and not bother getting back to contacts,” says Izard. She recommends switching up how you communicate from time to time; swap an email for a phone call, a video conference call, or an in-person meeting.
“We are losing the art of face-to-face connection and that makes it a lot easier to ‘drop off’ and not bother getting back to contacts.”
If you’re a recruiter, video interviews can help weed out unqualified or disinterested candidates. Additionally, consider selecting multiple candidates—that way, you’ll have a backup option if you come across a ghost.
Freelancers or contractors may want to consider charging a client upfront to ensure they’re committed before starting to work. Get the terms and scope of the project in writing. The more accountable a person feels, the more likely they are to follow through.
Nine out of 10 times, ghosting has little to do with you, the ghostee, so don’t take it too personally. People will ghost for a variety of reasons—chances are they forgot, got too busy, or wanted to avoid an awkward conversation.
“I think the behavior is less about malice and more about discomfort with the situation,” says Greene. Workers are simply taking the easy way out and ignoring a problem until it goes away, she advises.
It can be difficult to pinpoint why, exactly, someone will ghost. Sure, it can feel frustrating and disrespectful but as more and more ghosts creep into the workplace, it’s important to stay professional.
Much of our success boils down to how we manage and develop our professional networks, ghosts included. Don’t hold grudges, keep moving forward, and, when in doubt, don’t burn the bridge.