Ghosting: the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. (Source, Google Dictionary)
While the term “ghosting” has been used predominantly for dating and other personal relationships, where someone you thought was interested in or cared about you suddenly just stops contacting you, there is also such a thing as being a victim of professional ghosting.
Over this past weekend at our Easter family dinner, my (Donna’s) brother relayed a story of how one of his employees just stopped showing up for work one day and didn’t respond to voicemails, emails, or text messages. He ended up creatively creating an issue with her last paycheck that forced her to call. Her explanation? “I found another job.” It would have been nice to know that.
I’ve been professionally “ghosted” once or twice. In following up on projects that were supposed to occur, or contracts that were fulfilled, I have had the people on the other end just simply not acknowledge my communication. I always send a cheery second one, just to make that the email to go off into cyberspace, so when the second communication also goes ignored, I know that I am experiencing professional ghosting.
The young adults in my life (most right around 30 years old) are so frustrated by being treated as disposable. Dating is hard enough. Online meeting of people is even harder because, for some reason, the fact that there is another human being on the other side of that email or text message (or lack thereof) doesn’t seem to matter.
Any type of ghosting is rude. It brings to mind the title of an old Don Knotts movie, called the Ghost and Mr. Chicken. It’s easy to be a chicken now when it comes to personal or professional issues or conflict. We simply stop responding. If you have been the victim of ghosting, it can cause a feeling of failure. It may help to re-frame failure. Maybe you did fail at something, we all do. Failed to deliver what the customer wanted, or failed to meet the “criteria” of the person whom you met online. Sure, it would be really helpful for the other party to communicate with you about what it was that didn’t or won’t work, but our new reality is different. You can tell yourself that you did the best you could. You can move on to the next project. You can wait for the right person to come along.
There are times when we do need to stop communicating with someone. Maybe even abruptly. This can be due to toxic or abusive relationships, friendships or other relationships that we have tried to work on or out, but have become unhealthy for us. Those scenarios, in my opinion, are not a form of ghosting but involve the need for self-care and preservation.
The type of ghosting that is rude is the kind where we simply decide to deliberately drop the ball on our communication responsibilities. Letting a person know that we have moved on in the dating community, that a project was put on the back burner, that we decided to take on a new job, or that we are confused by an email or text correspondence, are all simple ways to decide to use our online manners.
I just had to do that, this morning. I was receiving out-of-the-blue private FB messages from someone I knew a long time ago, growing up. It felt slightly awkward, so I slept on what to do about it. I didn’t want to be rude, but I also didn’t want to engage. So I messaged back the truth, that my significant other and I have a relationship rule about private messaging other people of the opposite sex. Public comments on posts and pictures are not a problem. I said my family was fine and hoped his was too and received a polite response back. It’s not that hard to be truthful and kind. I for one, and I wonder if I speak for many of us, would prefer to know the truth, rather than be left wondering and creating imaginary scenarios about where we might have fallen short or failed.