Productivity

Have you been ‘ghosted’ in business? Here’s how to tell

- December 3, 2019 6 MIN READ

Increasingly, in this online, remote professional world, a worrying trend in business etiquette gaining traction. ‘Ghosting’ suppliers or prospective suppliers seems to be on the increase.

I am on many professional pages on LinkedIn and Facebook and have noticed a worrying trend in business etiquette gaining traction. ‘Ghosting’ suppliers or prospective suppliers seems to be on the increase.

For those not familiar with the term, it is a word more commonly associated with online dating. It is the practice of ending a relationship by ceasing all communication and becoming uncontactable – without any explanation. 

Increasingly, in this online, remote professional world, ‘ghosting’ is slipping into day to day business life, and it needs to stop. It is cowardly and lousy business etiquette.

I am not talking about not replying to a mass EDM inviting you to a forum, along with 5,000 other marketing executives. I am talking about deliberately ignoring correspondence (phone/email/message) that has been tailored to you alone. 

I know everyone has done it for one reason or another. None of us is perfect. There are so many different scenarios, and none of them is acceptable. 

Everyone should have the manners to respond politely. The response may mean a tricky conversation, or saying no to something, or may even mean a bit of extra work, but by ignoring someone, you send a message that:

  • You are arrogant – You don’t respect that person’s time or professional knowledge
  • You are cowardly – You don’t have the backbone to handle tricky conversations
  • You are selfish – You are more concerned with your feelings of discomfort than someone else’s feelings.  
  • You are a terrible time manager – If you can’t respond to emails, maybe you can’t manage your time in other areas of your business life.

Here are three common ghosting scenarios:

The Sales Proposal Conundrum – Did I give away too much?

A pretty frequent scenario for many of my peers. 

A prospective client gets in touch all gung-ho about an urgent project they need doing. Like really urgently.

Both people have a half-hour phone call, that is vibrant and exciting, and even cover off ballpark costings. The prospective client asks for a detailed proposal, saying: ‘Send that through to me, and I will clear it with my manager/review it/get sign off, and we can get started asap.’

The consultant works hard on a proposal, giving the client enough detail to get excited, but hopefully not enough to do the job themselves, and sends it off. Then nothing. 

A couple of polite phone calls – maybe in the first call the client says they need to hold off until their manager is back from a conference. 

Then zip.

There’s nothing to indicate anything is wrong. The prospective client simply vanishes. It’s evident to the consultant they haven’t died or become ill by their social media activity. So why the silence?

This type of Ghosting is just bad manners. Maybe the client’s manager didn’t like the ideas or didn’t sign off on the costs, but when someone has taken their time to prepare something especially for you, it is respectful to give them some feedback. By not responding, you are sending a message the consultant is not worthy of your attention, and you don’t respect them professionally.

It is also selfish and cowardly of the ghoster to avoid their own discomfort from delivering potentially negative news. They don’t want to be seen as ‘the bad guy’. 

Frankly, I would prefer to deliver bad news in a kind and polite way, than be known as someone too gutless to handle that kind of conversation.

The PR & Journo Dance – Who needs who the most?

As a PR consultant, I am quite used to Ghosting when it comes to the media. Some journalists don’t bother responding at all to a media pitch. We PRs need a thick skin not to take it personally. 

I get why it happens.

I understand journos get a bazillion pitches and press releases in their inboxes each day. It would be too difficult to respond to every one.

However, I also work as a journalist from time to time, and I have empathy with the PR’s dilemma, as well as seeing the journo’s view. 

I always ensure I respond to bespoke pitches that are sent to me alone – when a PR has taken the time to craft angles to suit the publication I write for. Even if my reply is to say “no thanks”, it allows the PR to move on and pitch the story to someone else, and I know the simple act of being polite means they may come back with a better article idea in the future.

And one day the Ghosting may come back to bite – many journos go on to become PR consultants and vice versa. Many PRs take on in-house roles – chances are you will cross paths again over your professional life.

PRs need journos, and more often than not, journos need PRs to hear about stories they might not otherwise know. It is much easier to be polite and take one minute to respond to personalised pitches than burn a bridge for the future.

The Invoice Avoider – It’s like leaving before your round at the pub, but worse.

As a small business operator, I am all too familiar with this one. I have tightened my payment terms in contracts, and even have an administration surcharge included in my contract for accounts more than a month overdue, but it doesn’t deter some clients. Especially large businesses who don’t understand their invoice may represent a significant chunk of a consultant’s monthly income.

I had a client not so long ago who came to me with urgent work. They signed the contract, paid the deposit within a day, agreed to my payment terms, and I set to work. I delivered the project well within their deadlines and provided attentive service. My client was fantastic and equally responsive, replying to phone calls and emails within minutes. Until I sent the invoice.

*crickets*

Occasionally I got a note after many calls and emails, saying it was with accounts. Phone calls, email and SMS all went unanswered. A month came and went. The surcharge was added. Nothing. Until I said I was referring it to a debt collector. Then the payment miraculously appeared.

This type of Ghosting is by far the most damaging of all scenarios. It would not have been difficult for that client to send a quick email or pick up the phone and provide a payment date, or even to say they would follow up and get back to me. 

And we small businesses can get nervous chasing a large company for money. Furthermore, large companies know it. Some rely on it.

By ghosting an invoice from a small business, the Ghoster is impacting the small business more than they could possibly know. 

It can impact small businesses’ ability to meet their financial commitments, or in the case of some small businesses, it can break them. For virtually all small businesses (especially sole traders), that money is our bread and butter. Literally. We live off the money. 

The Ghoster, meanwhile, is still getting paid their salary, oblivious to what their act of putting the invoice in the “too hard” basket may be doing to another person’s day to day life. 

What to do if you are guilty of Ghosting

  1. Respond to the message  – There is no number 2, 3 or 4 on this list. Just respond. Even if it is just to say ‘no thanks’ or explain why you have been silent (maybe you have been ill, away or the company is being restructured) or give the person a date you will be back to them (and stick to it.)

The benefits of not Ghosting outweigh Ghosting by a long shot – for both parties:

  1. By keeping the lines of communication open and responding politely to information that has been expressly sent to you, you can maintain a smooth business relationship, 
  2. Open Communication allows you to keep your business processes operating more efficiently
  3. You can enhance your reputation as a responsive and competent professional
  4. Everyone knows the status of a project and the Ghostee won’t waste their time repeatedly contacting the Ghoster
  5. No more fear of who is calling. Makes life more productive and relaxing all round.

Fiona Hamann is Founder and Principal of Hamann Communication – a full service PR and communications agency. She works with businesses of all sizes and across the globe, specialising in start-ups, Fintech, Construction and Real Estate including investor relations, IPOs, ASX listing and ICOs. She teaches PR at a Sydney college one day per week, and is passionate in sharing her knowledge with other small businesses and sole traders so they can avoid the pitfalls and mistakes she has already made.