We’ve all been there. The emails, texts, and calls just stop from a promising business lead. We’ve been professionally “ghosted.” How can we cope and how can we prevent it from happening again?
The solo business life is a lot like the solo dating life.
We get a lot of our leads through the internet. There’s a lot of back and forth before we set up a date. We go on a lot of blind lunches and dinners.
We also get ghosted.
Ghosting is the act of a relationship partner – whether new or established – doing a “disappearing” act without prompt or explanation. They simply stop responding to texts, emails, or phone calls. They end the relationship by simply removing themselves from it completely.
Businesses do it too.
We get a promising lead in. We share an encouraging conversation, maybe even set up a meeting. Feeling good about the prospect, we send out a proposal, quote, or invoice. Days pass. Weeks pass. We send an email nudge.
After weeks or months of reminder emails and a polite phone call or two, we just never hear from them again.
We’ve been “professionally ghosted.”
Amelia Twiss, Executive Coach and Registered Psychologist at the Twiss Psychology Group defines business or professional ghosting when:
“Someone deliberately stops communicating with another person in a professional context, despite having an active relationship with that person, and without letting the other person know.”
Professional ghosting doesn’t mean we’re dealing with serial, skilled veteran ghosters. (Though in some cases, we very well might be.)
We’re being ghosted by businesspeople; those we’d usually call colleagues and contacts.
But why do they do it?
Speaker, psychologist, and consultant Dr. Joe Issak says it’s due to many factors.
“They’re uncertain,” Joe says. “They’re not sure what’s happening. They are facing difficulty, and they can’t lead in that adversity and without adequate resources, so they just disappear. They just go quiet, because they know if they say something, it might be held against them. If they haven’t said anything, they can always make up an excuse saying, ‘Well, we were really under a lot of pressure, we’re very busy. I’m so sorry that I have to reply to your email after seven weeks.’ They think they can get away with it without consequence.”
“There is a lack of care and respect for the other party and a fear of perceived conflict. They have anxiety about being disliked. They might be drowning under their responsibilities and have difficulty coping. They want to spare the other party discomfort, but it’s more about a lack of care and respect.”
We might brush this off and say “well, business is business,” but ghosting has an obvious impact on how we feel and perform at work. It can also affect certain people more than others, Joe says. It can also have negative effects on the person doing the ghosting.
“Let’s say someone that is completely a people person, loves to help people, loves people to see them as nice people, as a nice person, loves to be of value to others. If this person has to ghost, they will have more severe impact than a person that let’s say, is focus oriented or drive oriented and they just very number-oriented person. They both are not going to feel well, but the impact and the severity of it will vary, depending on the personality profile.
“So, there would be nobody, whatsoever, as any human being that has got a heart pumping in their chest, that will ghost someone and feel okay.”
Amelia says that repeated experiences of ghosting can have significant impacts on someone’s self-esteem, sense of belonging and mental wellbeing.
Joe says it can lead to rumination and add to negative self-talk.
“If it happens quite a few times in a row, they start thinking, ‘Okay, what’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Did I upset them?’ They run their life back in their head. They can taste the failure.’”
How To Re-Animate Business Relationships
The great psychologist Alfred Adler said, “all problems are fundamentally interpersonal relationship problems.” The way to avoid ghosting is to be pro-active and as “human” as possible. This means acknowledge that you’re “perfectly imperfect” and can’t be across absolutely everything at once. Some ghosting is unintentional.
Amelia says, “Commit to integrity in your dealings with others, create systems to support you to manage your responsibilities and relationships effectively. Don’t take on so much work that you can’t reply to others in a timely manner. Manage expectations of the other party if you aren’t going to be able to meet an agreed deadline and if you realise that you have let someone down, apologise as soon as you realise. Make sure you tell that person what you are putting in place to make sure that the oversight doesn’t happen again. These steps will go a long way to restoring a sense of social inclusion and psychological safety between the people in your professional network.”
Joe says many of us need to strengthen our communication skills.
“When we say communication skills, a lot of people, even inside their own heads, sometimes say “Ah, come on, you’re going to teach me how to talk?” Well, guess what? Yes. It sounds very basic but it’s real. [Business leaders] realise the situation is way more complex than what it is. There’s four steps or four levels of development. Most people, when we talk about something like this, are in the unconscious incompetence level. We need to rise to conscious competence. It’s a matter of practice with friends, family, and eventually, business partners.”
No one wants to deal with a ghoster and having a reputation as one can damage relationships now and into the future.
Coping Strategies for Ghosting
Ghosting doesn’t just have to feel awful. We can help ourselves to cope with ghosting, when – not if – it happens.
“Don’t be afraid to follow up the ghoster, assume that they are struggling to manage their affairs and that by following up you are actually doing them a favour,” Amelia says. “If you never hear back, remind yourself that this isn’t about you – the other party is struggling in their own way. Framing the experience in this way can help people make sense of being ghosted.
“If after following up a few times you haven’t received a response, you could message the other party and say ‘I haven’t heard back from you so I will be taking this conversation off my pending list. Please feel free to get back in touch anytime.’
“By doing this, you are taking responsibility for the relationship and for communicating clearly about where you stand. This frees you up to let go of being ghosted as you have created closure for yourself.”