“Model the behavior you wish more people would display. Lead first.” — Robin S. Sharma
Years ago the term “ghosting” came into my world. At that time it was all about the young people in my life – their friends and relationships that involved a lot of text communication. It startled me to learn that, sometimes, relationships ended and people disappeared from each other’s lives without a real-time conversation.
More recently “ghosting” has arrived in my business life, a place where it definitely doesn’t belong. I’ve spent time wondering how to adapt to this communication breakdown. This led me to uncovering the “why” and then taking a closer look at my own behaviour.
How is ghosting showing up in my business life? And why is it happening? What can we each do to eliminate it?
The informal definition of ghosting is “the practice of suddenly ending all contact with a person without explanation, especially in a romantic relationship”. See … it should never apply to business communication! But it does. I’ve had a handful of enthusiastic and detailed conversations with both clients and potential clients suddenly go completely silent.
Until recently, I could remedy this situation with a brief email that included the phrase: “This note is to make sure I don’t “drop the thread” of our recent discussions. Shall we organize a time for a phone conversation? Let me know what works best in terms of your current priorities.” An answer would arrive within 24 hours. This is no longer always the case.
What to do? Well, I go to great lengths to remain politely persistent employing all the mediums available: voicemail, email, texting, Linkedin, WhatsApp and even MarcoPolo. It’s working, often very slowly.
My persistence is supported by my understanding of why this happens. In business, in life, there’s a “back story” impacting communication and it’s important to keep it in mind.
Here are a few reasons a contact may suddenly stop speaking with you:
- Something BIG has happened in their personal life, an emergency that has taken them away from work – think injury, death, hospitalization, etc.
- Something BIG has happened at work, suddenly creating a whole new list of urgent priorities – think merger, acquisition, new product launch, dramatic economic shifts, etc.
- They haven’t received your most recent correspondence. This happens more often than we realize. While we are waiting for someone to reply, they are waiting for our proposal or response to their last request. Sometimes it’s buried in an over-full inbox, sometimes it’s sitting in spam and sometimes, who knows … it simply never arrived.
- They don’t know what to say because they haven’t made a decision. They make a note to get back to us as soon as they know something and … we slide to the bottom of a very long to-do list.
As I made this list I realized that I’m guilty of all these things. In fact, as I write this, I have at least two emails I haven’t responded to because I haven’t figured out what to say. I haven’t made a decision. I’m not sure when I will make a decision. I’m not sure when we should speak again. I am “ghosting” them. Yikes.
Doug Dvorak is a much-cherished colleague and while there are many things about him I admire and try to emulate, one of his outstanding characteristics is … he always replies. No matter where he is in the world, he’ll get back to me. Sometimes the message is a short “Got it” or “Yes, perfect” or “Not right now” but he always responds. I always know where I stand with Doug and, as a consequence, he has both my loyalty and trust.
If “ghosting” is something we don’t want in our business life, we need to make sure that we aren’t doing it ourselves. We all need to take a moment and reply to those requests that we’ve saved in our inbox.
Here are some easy options:
- “Haven’t decided and other priorities have arisen. Let’s connect in May.”
- “Apologies but I’m unavailable at the time you’ve mentioned.”
- “Need to let this go for now. Will be in touch again.”
- “Thanks for your time. This isn’t something we are going to do.”
And I’m sure there are lots of more options (feel free to share yours in the comment section below). What’s important is that we model the skills we want others to use with us … that we all take a moment.