Last year, I set about researching “ghosting”, in a business context, thinking it might form the basis of an interesting discussion. It’s pervaded the theatre world, the agency world and the online dating world, but it seems to be pervading the world of business, too.
In light of 9 months of business experience since then, and several experiences with ghosts of my own, I thought it was due a revisit.
So let’s start from the very beginning. First of all, what is ghosting? Urban Dictionary has my favourite definition…
"The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just "get the hint" and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested."
Ghosting is at home in the online dating world. According to a survey conducted by Plenty of Fish, 50% of people using their online dating service reported being ghosted (with a whopping 78% of millennials surveyed reporting being ghosted), with almost as many admitting to doing the ghosting themselves!
But what about ghosting in business? There’s a lot written about ghosting in a hiring context- either with recruiters ghosting candidates, or- which seems to be the upcoming trend- candidates ghosting recruiters. There’s even tales of employees ghosting their employers rather than formally quitting- check out Economic Times or The Balance for some amusing stories.
From our point of view, it’s something we’ve seen quite a few times, as people who work as a supplier for companies. We’re used to the competitive nature of the supplier world and the fast pace at which many of our clients operate.
But, since January, with starting our own company, it’s got that little bit more…personal. The little laugh about people not picking up the phone…the running joke about a potential client being a ghost…the polite emails you send in order to finally get a response…it all becomes that bit more serious when it’s directly impacting your bottom line.
We’ve seen a few ghosts. The people who never answer the phone. The people who never respond to your emails. The people who never acknowledge the proposal you’ve sent through. The people who never quite get a date in the diary in order to meet with you. And, my absolute new favourite, the people who set up a meeting with you and then just don’t turn up.*
(*They did finally get back to us with a response…and an apology. Perhaps not quite a full ghost, but still a little bit translucent for my liking...)
Perhaps you’re busy- I’m sure you are. Perhaps your inbox is just too crammed. Perhaps my email’s popped into your spam folder instead of your inbox. Or, perhaps, you just don’t want to talk to me.
The best article I’ve seen so far on the topic is by Aliza Licht of Forbes, who outlines the kind of ghosts we can all relate to in a workplace context.
Here’s a couple of the best ones:
It’s a fascinating study in human behaviour- so much so that quite a few more articles are popping up about it.
Some, like these from Inc.com and Distractify, examine why people are ghosting.
There’s a range of suggested reasons, from competitive job markets, to jumping from toxic workplace cultures, to a fear of confrontation. And then there’s the suggestion that in today’s faceless digital world, we’re being taught to hide behind anonymity, giving us the ability to get out of things without awkwardness and repercussions.
Others, like Nicole Fisher of Forbes, are examining why it feels so crushing to be ghosted, with a number of studies being conducted that equates ghosting to social rejection, which can be as powerful as physical pain. (There’s even been a paper published by those examining the link between ghosting, a belief in destiny and finding “the one” in a personal context)!
So, what’s the general takeaway from this? Ghosting is not an acceptable business response. Open and honest communication is everything. Keeping people in the know isn’t just common courtesy, it’s crucial to building successful business relationships.
Justin Bariso’s look at what you can do about tackling ghosting pretty much sums it all up:
And, if you’re the ghost, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your definition of “polite” …