Are You Getting Ghosted at Work … or Are You the Ghost?

Recently, my friend and I were sitting in a bar watching one of our local sports teams play when he asked me if I would mind being a sounding board and mentor to one of his new copywriters on his staff. Since he’s one of my oldest friends, it took me two seconds to say yes. “Nate” did send me an email two days later and I offered to meet him anywhere and any time. He thanked me and said he’d get in touch soon and then … nothing. I haven’t heard a peep out of him for almost two months. Oh my … I was getting ghosted!

If you’re not sure what “ghosting” is, there are many definitions, but only a few of which I can repeat in a business blog! For our purposes, it’s basically when one person stops communicating with another out of the blue. Just like a ghost, they disappear into the woodwork. Sometimes, there might be legitimate reasons that a person gets ghosted, but those aren’t the norm.

Nate’s behavior above is classic workplace ghosting. Not only was Nate being rude to me, but he was also extremely disrespectful to my friend who went out of his way to set up an introduction which Nate promptly ignored. Unfortunately, with the rise of social media permeating so many lives and its effect on communication, ghosting is a phenomenon that won’t be going away any time soon.

For fun, here are the ten kinds of ghosts you’ll find at work. See how many you’ve run into on the job, and be honest if you’ve ever done one to another person.

  1. The Hiring Ghost:

    Typically haunts Human Resource departments everywhere. Yeah … calling you out, HR! Anyone who has been on a job search for the last decade or so, has been ghosted by HR. With the surge in using talent acquisition software, the odds of them contacting you when you don’t get the job are shrinking.  Oh yes, I am totally calling out the Human Resources department here. They’re supposed to be human, it’s in their title, yet their manners and sensitivity are nonexistent. There are too many examples of candidates who have applied for jobs, interviewed for jobs and even been asked to write proposals or “test projects” like they would do on the job if hired. Once handed in, HR is never to be heard from again.  Dear HR and hiring managers … how much effort does it take to craft a general, “Thanks, but no thanks” email to let your applicants know that they did not get the job? Applicants will be disappointed, of course, but knowing is better than the deadly silence of uncertainty. The same goes for consultants and freelancers everywhere who spend hours creating proposals and bids only to get radio silence once sent in.


  1. The Job-Hunter Ghost:

    On the flip side of the coin, it’s terribly rude to have a company show interest in you by going so far as to offer you a job, and then you never call them back. One VP of HR told me that she had a woman that her company interviewed several times. “She came in, did a presentation and expressed excitement in a follow-up email. I was going to make her an offer, but she vanished. She wouldn’t respond to the recruiter either. I don’t get it. Just say you are going somewhere else or decided to do something different!”


  1. The YES! Ghost:

    This is NOT the co-worker that says yes to almost anything short of, “Hey, let’s build a bonfire in the lunchroom for ‘BBQ Thursday’ next week!” This ghost mainly resides in bad manager’s offices. This is the boss that acts excited when you come to them asking for a promotion and more responsibility. Oh, they give you the extra work, for sure, but when it comes time to get the new title and/or salary increase, they disappear.


  1. The Serial Ghost:

    Serial ghosters are the worst. She’s the person in your professional circle who repeatedly asks for time on your calendar and you go back and forth to schedule. Then the day before your plans, when you email to confirm, you hear nothing. The day of, no word/no show and then a day or two later you get the, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry—I was just so slammed and completely forgot. Can we reschedule?” Two or three emails into scheduling, they ghost. Then, three to six months later—”Hey! How are you? We must grab drinks and catch up!” You don’t even put up with repeated cancellations from your family or best friends, so don’t give serial ghosters time on your calendar.


  1. The Apprehensive Ghost:

    You almost feel sorry for this ghost as it is that inexperienced person who gets freaked out when someone actually replies positively to their request for advice or mentorship. If you’re an apprehensive ghost, here’s a bit of free advice: If you ask for help and I respond, it’s because I WANT TO RESPOND! Therefore, I want to talk with you, so don’t ghost me by disappearing. Follow up. The absolute worst thing that will happen is that I won’t know the answer to your question or might not be able to mentor you, but I’ll let you down easy. And, I will point you in the right direction to someone that can help you.


  1. The Oblivious Ghost:

    Similar to #5 above, except these younger candidates simply do not value the concept of professional relationships and building a strong network. In many cases, your network is your most valuable professional asset. It’s often even more important than the skills you have. Just three years out of college, I got a job in an industry I never worked in before and a position that was very loosely tied into my skills as a writer. However, a friend of my father’s found out I was looking for a new job and told me about this company and insisted that I use his name when I applied. Bottom line … I got the job after one interview because the hiring manager was my father’s friend’s brother-in-law. Networks are freaking AWESOME! By the way, I stayed at that job as a full-timer and then a freelancer for 21 years. One other point about being an oblivious ghost … many industries are relatively small. Your reputation doesn’t follow you everywhere; it gets there before you do.


  1. The User Ghost:

    This person is extremely responsive when he wants something. Conversely, once he gets what he wants, he disappears because he no longer has a need for you. Never doubt that he’s seeing your email but totally ignoring it. Rest assured, he will pop up the next time he needs something. For you ladies out there, this is the closest thing to a bad boyfriend in the business ghosting world. I’m just saying ….


  1. The Non-Assertive Ghost:

    This is the person who doesn’t like to deal with uncomfortable situations. Instead of saying how she feels or declining an opportunity with grace, she just avoids the situation altogether by dropping off the face of the earth. She has the amazing talent of being able to “ghost out” of a tense meeting when there’s only five people in the room.


  1. The Overwhelmed Ghost:

    This is the only ghost on the list that sometimes has an excuse for his or her actions. This ghost is just overwhelmed with his life, his work, and his inbox. He means well, but her time management skills need sharpening. He’s not technically ignoring your email, it’s just that he’s got 856 more of them in front of yours. He can even ghost you when you run into him in the hallway to ask him a question. He flies by you rapidly because he’s late for a meeting and promises to call you when the meeting is over, but never does. The thing about this ghost is that most of us have become him or her at one time or another. However, most of us eventually catch up. This ghost never does


  1. The Unprofessional Ghost:

    This is the worst of them all and there are lots of different versions of the unprofessional ghost. During my time as a freelancer, I reluctantly accepted a job from a firm in Texas to do marketing copy for them. There was something strange about their marketing manager and I should have followed my gut and declined the job. Luckily, I got my 50% fee up front. However, the next 60 days were terrible! I would ask questions and not get answers … send copy but never get approval … and generally was ghosted for days or weeks at a time. After about six months, I got them to agree that I would stop work. Then they asked for their deposit back!! (That’s why smart freelancers use contracts, folks!) The irony is that the amount of time, stress, and frustration I got from that job cost me way more than it cost them.

If you’ve professionally ghosted on someone, my suggestion is to reach out and acknowledge that you dropped the ball, and apologize—don’t make excuses and don’t expect anything in return. We’ve all gone frozen at one time or another, for reasons that make sense and sometimes don’t make sense. This is a relatively small world, and in my opinion, a straight apology will go a long way toward mending the damage.

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