Ghosting At Work: It’s Not Just for Dating Anymore

By Kristen Harris

No call, no show employees. Blown off interviews. Skipped meetings. If someone just stopped communicating with you, basically ending your business relationship abruptly with no explanation, you got ghosted. 

Typically associated with dating or personal relationships, now it’s common to see people ghost on a job, interview, meeting, or event. Just not showing up and are never heard from again. Disappearing like a ghost, leaving you to wonder if they were even real.

Why is this happening? Early psychological research shows this might be a typical human behavior now made easier with technology. In the past, people were interconnected through real social networks making it harder to disappear or completely ignore someone. Now we’re connected to coworkers, candidates, employees, clients, and vendors via text, email, social media, even video–but we’ve never actually met them. When you don’t work in the same office, live in the same neighborhood, or join the same industry groups, it’s easy to stop communicating with someone because you’ll probably never see them again. 

There’s also a problem with too much choice and minimal risk. Whether we’re looking for a date, a job, or a vendor, it feels like there’s an infinite number to choose from…and what if the next one is even better? We’re living in a constant state of FOMO. People are willing to take risks because it doesn’t feel like there are substantial negative consequences. There’s always another job, another client, another vendor you can contact. Until there’s not (because reputation does matter), but that’s another conversation for another day.

Getting Ghosted? Here’s what to do about it:

  1. Remember it’s them, not you. If this has happened to you (and if it hasn’t it will), the natural reaction is to question yourself. What did you do wrong? How did you chase them away? While it’s good to review what happened and whether there might be room for improvement, remember that ghosting reveals a lot more about them, not you. It’s an avoidance tactic. That person doesn’t want to tell you bad news, ask for something they need, or confront an issue. They are uncomfortable with difficult conversations, and it’s just easier to disappear. Weak? Yes. Cowardly? Yeah, but also common. 

  2. Provide value. Here’s where it’s productive to do some soul-searching. What went right or wrong in this situation? Was there something you could have done to provide more value to this person? People show up for things they need, value, and care about. Are you offering something they need? Is it something they care about? Did you treat them as if you value them? If you could do better, make improvements. If you did all you could, then see #1.

  3. Build a real relationship. Be realistic about what kind of relationship you have with this person. If you’ve only connected on LinkedIn, texted, or exchanged business cards, you have not yet created value. Meet in-person or via video, or at least have an in-depth phone call. Talk about their needs and what is important to them; get to know each other as a person. It’s harder to disappear on someone you know and care about, and we can only manage a limited number of close relationships. Make sure you’re one of them!

As much as I want to shake my fist at the lack of respect and etiquette ghosting shows, this is our new normal. Everyone’s life is too fast-moving, with too many connections, and too bombarded with information to respond to everything. 

If someone notifies you of what’s going on with them, great; you have an answer. If they don’t, well, then you also have an answer. Accept it and move to the next person who truly cares about what you have to offer.