I’ve seen a new term lately called “ghosting.” The Urban Dictionary defines it as “the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone.” It’s done in the hopes that the person being ghosted will come to the realization on their own that the other person wants nothing to do with them and they’ll just go away. The idea being that the person doing the ghosting is avoiding a difficult conversation or hurting another person’s feelings by ignoring them.
The Urban Dictionary also seems to imply that ghosting is related to a person’s level of maturity and communication skills (and not in a positive way.)
Ghosting has been typically associated with dating and friendships, but after reading a post on GOOD titled, “Just Checking In…Again,” I’m wondering if there’s such a thing as professional or business ghosting?
You can read the article yourself, but basically it’s about applying for a job and never receiving a response from the company. As readers of this blog, you know I’ve received several letters from readers about the exact same thing. Candidates who are upset because the organization won’t tell them what’s going on. While candidates never want a TBNT letter (thanks but no thanks,) at least the letter brings closure.
But not hearing about the status of your job application isn’t the only form of professional ghosting. Ever submitted a proposal to your boss or a prospective client never to hear any feedback? What about the person you meet at a networking event who asks you to follow-up with them in the office only to never take your call?
One thing to note about ghosting is that it’s predicated on an interaction or relationship. If someone doesn’t get a reply to a cold call or a blind pitch, that’s not ghosting. There’s an implied expectation or response element to ghosting that doesn’t exist with other one-way communications. Ghosting is a response in two-way communication.
The more I think about it, the more I can see that professional ghosting exists. The question becomes “why?”
On one hand, I can see a person rationalizing that ghosting is a way to let someone down softly without hurting their feelings. Although personally, I want to call bravo sierra on that reasoning. It is possible to tell someone “no” in such a way that they can ultimately benefit from it. If you want to learn more about how to do it, check out “The Power of a Positive No” by William Ury.
Another reason that I’ve seen quite a bit (especially with consultants) is the person who views everyone as their potential customer so they say whatever that person wants to hear. They never disagree with anything anyone has to say. Sometimes this approach of always saying “yes” can build to a point where the individual just has to remove themselves from interactions. So instead of respectfully disagreeing, a person resorts to ghosting. Again, it’s important to remember that everyone is not your customer and all conversations do not have to be delivered with radical candor.
The way I see it, ghosting can send the message that a person doesn’t care or value the relationship enough to even say “no.” If that’s the message the individual wants to send, then ghosting is an option. However, ghosting to simply avoid saying, “I can’t support that idea right now.” or “I think the proposal needs more work in this area.” Isn’t helpful to anyone. And could actually do some harm.
However, the thing that really scares me about ghosting is that it might be possible to create ghosting cultures. Can you imagine organizations where ghosting is how employees communicate (or not communicate) with each other? What impact does that have on the organization’s ability to develop and execute strategy, communicate with customers, and engage employees? As a human resources professional, how do we stop ghosting from becoming acceptable behavior?
Image taken by Sharlyn Lauby on Día de Muertos somewhere off the coast of Mexico0
Michael Haberman says
An excellent post Sharlyn. I have experienced this before.
Brendan Hickey says
This has been SOP in some fields for years. I have learned to ask when the employer expects to make a decision so that, when I have heard nothing, about a week or so after that date, then I know that they did not select me.
The medium is also the message. A paper letter means no. A call means yes. An email could mean either.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks for the comments. And totally agree with Brendan that medium counts.