Ghosting at Work: Why It’s Terribly Destructive and What To Say Instead

Ghosting May Feel Easy, But the Impact is Hard

It’s getting worse. This phenomenon of ghosting at work.

What is Ghosting at Work?

Ghosting at work is when you THINK you’re in an important conversation.  And THEN, the other party completely disappears.

Such disappearing stunts are not that different from their close cousin in the dating scene.

You’ve had a few great dates. Excellent conversation. You made some fun plans for NEXT weekend. Maybe even a sweet kiss. And then, nothing. Nada. Completely gone.

Here are common examples of ghosting at work I hear nearly every day.

  • A candidate has multiple, promising interviews, and the hiring manager “ghosts” leaving the candidate hanging… not knowing whether to give up and move on or to remain hopeful.
  • A candidate receives a job offer and then ghosts without rejecting the position. Or worse, accepts the job and is a no-call-no show on the first day.
  • A prospective customer asks for multiple discovery calls and a detailed leadership development proposal with multiple iterations. And then, completely disappears (Okay, okay, I’m particularly salty about this one 😉
  • Someone reaches out asking for a meeting, you schedule it, and they don’t show up.

Why is Ghosting at Work on the Rise?

I’m not sure exactly why disappearing mid-conversation is on the rise, but I’ve got some theories.

It might have something to do with all the remote work. Perhaps it’s easier to quit a conversation mid-stream when you’ve never been in the same room. It’s easier to dehumanize a face on a zoom square than a human in 3D.

It could be fear of having a difficult conversation or disappointing someone who worked so hard.

Or in some cases, I blame bad manners. Their parents just didn’t think to explain that ghosting is rude.

The top reasons in my recent “ghosting at work” LinkedIn poll, were “scared to give bad news” and “bad manners.”  I’m inclined to agree.

Dave Gregory commented.

It varies by event, but the crux of the issue is an erosion of common decency in how we treat one another. While many things have contributed to this erosion, our experiences would be better if chose to treat each other better. Leadership is treating people the way they want to be treated. We all need to be better leaders.

Why Leaving a Conversation Hanging is So Destructive to People and Your Work Culture

It may seem like no big deal. After all, if you disappear the message is clear. “I’m not interested.” “This conversation is over.” “I got all I need from you.”

The problem is, there’s another human being at the end of this ghosting at work scene. It’s possible, your “no big deal” IS a bigger deal to them. In fact, imagine you’re a candidate who had three seemingly promising interviews all go dark at the same time.

It also degrades trust– not just for your own brand, but for the brand of your organization. And the ghosted human is likely not keeping their frustration to themselves.

As Nick Sellers, shares:

The lack of communication, closure, completeness, or whatever we call it speaks volumes in itself. While disappointing and frustrating to one party it tells much about the other. Perhaps an opportunity to reflect and be thankful that the relationship didn’t get started and become a series of similar, and worse, experiences?

I agree with Nick.

When a leadership development prospect goes completely dark after extensive work on a proposal or design, I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet.

Clearly, they’re not serious about human-centered leadership or collaborating as meaningful partners. I count my blessings that I didn’t waste any more time.

AND, I still get sad that we work in a world where people think that’s okay.

What to Do Say Instead (When You’re Tempted to Disappear)

One big reason I hear for ghosting at work is that it just takes too much time to respond. I get it. I really do.

But the truth is, even a one or two-sentence response provides closure and shows you care enough to exit the interaction gracefully.

Here are responses even a slow typer can type in less than 30 seconds.

  • Thank you for your time and effort. We’ve gone in another direction.
  • I appreciate the work you put into this proposal. We’re not moving forward at this time.
  • Thank you for coming to meet with us. We’ve decided to not fill this position at this time.
  • It was a difficult decision, but we’ve gone with another candidate.
  • Thank you for taking the time to interview me, I’ve decided to take another offer.
  • I won’t be able to make our meeting today.

What to Say if You’ve Been Ghosted

In order to prevent ghosting at work from becoming an acceptable norm, I’m hoping more people will call out the behavior when it happens.

  • I haven’t heard from you, have you gone in a different direction?
  • I’m wondering if you’ve received my emails following up on our _____ (proposal, conversation, interview).  I’d love to get some closure on this one way or another.
  • I really care about the work we’ve done together so far, and it’s important to me that we close this conversation on a good note. Can have a quick conversation to _______.
  • I just read this human-centered leadership article by Karin Hurt on why ghosting is bad. I don’t think you’re a bad person. I’m curious as to your motivation to just disappear.  Are you busy or rude?  LOL… I’m just kidding. Don’t use this one 😉

Your turn.

I’m curious to hear your stories. Are you seeing ghosting at work on the rise, and if so what do you think are the root causes? Have you ever been ghosted at work? What did you do? What do you think we can do to reverse this trend?

Related: A Better New Year at Work? A Fresh Start To Deeper Human Connection