Let’s say you’re at a conference and you strike up an amazing conversation with someone about all the latest trends in your field. It’s so good that you two could talk for hours without getting bored. At the end of the chat, your new contact says, “We should catch up soon!” A few days later, brimming with excitement, you send them a follow-up message.
After waiting for two weeks without any response, you decide to send them another message: “Hey, if you’re still interested, let me know. I’m eager to share the exciting developments in the data landscape and how AI tools will shape it.”
At this stage, you’re not too concerned if they’ve lost interest. You simply hope for a brief reply. But you also don’t want to sound desperate.
Confused, behind closed doors, you wonder, “Why do so many normalise ghosting others in business? Shouldn’t we strive for clear explanations, so we can know where we stand and be more productive with our time?”
When you’re working to build a network, a sudden silence can easily shatter your confidence, leaving you feeling rejected and deepening your Impostor’s Syndrome . You’re analysing your interaction to see where you went wrong, or worse, in limbo, wondering if it’s appropriate to follow up.
I least, I felt like that many, many times.
Some may ask – why not just let it go?
Turns out – we’re not biologically wired for that. Ghosting is an action that messes with our psyche. When something is unresolved, our brains tend to linger on it – it’s a phenomenon called the Zeigarnik effect. The underlying cognitive tension pushes us to continue seeking a satisfactory resolution.
So, no, you’re not obsessing.
Sadly, it’s not the dating scene where people ghost and get ghosted. It’s all too common in professional interactions. Distance and anonymity has emboldened people to detach themselves from the consequences of their actions, leading to a normalisation of ghosting.
It’s always easier to get a warm intro through a contact or friend you already know (similarly, there is no so much ghosting happening if your date is a friend of a friend!). Yet sometimes, when you’re just building a network, this is not an option.
I sell Untrite tools to C-level and Senior Leadership in some of the largest corporations (a.ka the busiest people), so I’ve been ghosted a hundred of times. Yes, you develop a thicker skin after x rejection, but I can’t say that it all didn’t have an effect on me. And when other things are not going great either, i.e. there has been something personal happening too, it all gets to you.
Comforting news is – it’s not just you who’s getting ghosted. This phenomenon is present in many ways in the workplace. If you want to avoid or at least prepare for it, you first have to understand when, where, and why ghosting happens. And know, that in some cases, you may be causing problem yourself.
What are the most common forms of ghosting at work?
Pitching: You reach out to a prospective client and have a friendly exchange. The client shows interest, maybe you even get to discussing terms of a contract, but then he stops engaging entirely. With just 1% of cold calls and 3% of unsolicited sales emails leading to a sale, getting ghosted during the pitch process truly hurts.
Job searches: Your potential candidate applies for a job, schedules an interview, and then suddenly has a change of heart. Maybe they got a raise in their current role or received a better offer. Either way, they decide to bail on the interview and the your recruiting team is ghosted. In a 2021 Indeed survey, nearly half (46%) of jobseekers admitted that they have done this.
Hiring: Your potential candidate goes through a tough application process and asks your recruiter to send over the employment contract and other necessary documents for signing. Little do they know, your company suddenly decides to freeze hiring or shift priorities. Unfortunately, you forget to inform the candidate about this change. According to an Indeed survey, a whopping 77% of job seekers have been ghosted by employers since Covid hit the US, with 1 in 10 even getting ghosted after receiving a verbal job offer. In a LinkedIn poll, a staggering 93% of respondents admitted to being ghosted at some point during an active hiring process.
Onboarding: Your candidate accepts a job offer but doesn’t show up on their first day (and the following days) of work. This is on the rise, too. In the same Indeed survey, one out of every four employers reported new hire “no-shows” on what would’ve been day one. That’s a lot of wasted corporate swag, not to mention the time and money spent on the hiring process. Unfortunately, Gen Z and Millennial workers are more likely to disappear than those of other generations.
Quitting: A very popular one these days – an employee of yours grows tired of their role but doesn’t communicate his dissatisfaction. Maybe they have an overbearing boss or just hate the work. Instead of making a statement with reasons for quitting, they decide to leave without notice. In a 2018 report by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, employers reported that many employees are simply no longer showing up to work, whether virtual or otherwise and it’s impossible to contact them. There’s even a startup that has sprung up around this, resigning on behalf of employees so they can leave without ghosting.
Why do people ghost?
People may ghost for a number of reasons, but most often, it’s to avoid conflict or awkward situations. This may stem from social anxiety, burnout, or in the worst case, plain and simple carelessness.
And offering context could require a nuanced response — one that involves more time or mindshare than the ghost has right now. In other words, responding in a thoughtful manner can be the kind of unpleasant task that’s easier to put off indefinitely.
People may ghost you also when there is no update to share from their side, your contact never had the authority to make a call, or they’re feeling uneasy just for a thought of bureaucratic internal discussions.
They might also be plain overly busy. When faced with tight deadlines and high-pressure meetings, there isn’t much room for casual conversations. If your message isn’t at the forefront of their priorities, it’s highly probable that it’s getting lost in the shuffle for the time being.
In any case, those who choose to ghost others often unknowingly adhere to a well-known principle called the Pleasure Principle, famously introduced by Sigmund Freud. Driven by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain, some of us opt to abruptly end interactions as soon as they sense even a hint of discomfort.
The rookie mistake
When it comes to building relationships, you need to be playing the long game. Some of my connections that I’ve met 4-5 years ago, only now are ready to do something professionally.
The worst thing you can do when you’ve just connected with someone, is to pitch them without missing a beat. The rookie mistake, which I’m also guilty of, is when you ask others for help too soon.
Journalists get pitched like that all the time and they’re fed up with such practice. @Mike even wrote a great article about it.
Pinging weak ties for favours makes your entire interaction seem transactional. If you’ve been looking at online networking as a shortcut of some kind, know that strategy will likely backfire — leading to you getting blocked or ghosted by your new contacts.
Embrace the “pain”
The interesting thing is that that Zeigarnik effect most likely isn’t bothering just you. Even if your ghost has avoided an awkward exchange, they are likely thinking about it on some level as well.
And there might be a valid reason why ghosting is happening in the first place. Sometimes, the person who initially violated the social contract (abruptly leaving an otherwise pleasant exchange with no follow up) may feel, there’s no way to bring the conversation back on track without feeling the need for unpleasant explanations. Or they may have been working on a deadline or dealing with some issues that came up outside of their work.
This is your chance to get things going again. Reach out politely as if nothing happened.
Through all the years of networking, I learned that sudden silence isn’t always intentional. I give others the benefit of the doubt and always try to see what happened. If, after a couple of reach outs they still haven’t got back – I move on. I learned that no matter how unfair it may feel, an acquaintance doesn’t owe me a response.
What if you’re guilty of ghosting?
If you’re reading this and experiencing even a slight sense of discomfort, it’s possible that you’ve been guilty of ghosting. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Various studies reveal that the majority of us, in our personal or professional lives, have been guilty of ghosting at some point or another.
While may offered you a temporary relief or convenience, such behaviour strips us of the human connections that make our professional experiences worthwhile.
“- It’s easier to respond to an email than put it off or ignore it. Take the three minutes and hit ‘em back. AKA treat people how you would like to be treated…”VC Alex Pall (yes, he’s also this famous DJ from Chainsmokers)
Knowing what effect this behaviour has on your contact and you to certain extend, aim for a clean explanation or/and ending.
Perhaps you will never heard back. (Touché.) But your mind will be at ease, and that that’s something that you should strive for in any interaction.