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Is anyone out there? How to handle being ghosted at work

Voco Team

Being ghosted is hard to handle. Though social rejection is a very normal part of being human, there is something insidious about being completely ignored; an email opened but unanswered, an online exchange cut short mid conversation. When we can’t see or speak to that person directly, to find out what is going on, we feel powerless.

It hurts like hell when it happens but we have all come to expect this kind of rejection, from time to time, in our personal lives. Worryingly though, an increasing number of us have experienced the fresh embarrassment of being ghosted in our professional lives as well. When it happens, it can shake our resilience, confidence and identity to the core.

Being ignored causes social pain; which we feel as keenly as physical pain. So why is it happening, why do we do it and how can we get over it when it happens to us?

Why the disappearing act?

Ghosting is specific to online communications. Unless we plan to fake our own deaths, it is quite hard to cut contact with someone we see everyday. With a relationship that is primarily online, it’s far easier to break contact without the embarrassment of having to actually tell that person why. Ignoring, deleting or exiting a conversation is easy when we don’t have to look someone in the eye. It’s certainly not guilt free, but it feels far less awkward.

Many of our daily interactions are virtual - according to Ofcom, the average adult spends nearly 4 hours a day online - so it’s no wonder that ghosting is becoming commonplace. But it’s not always done with negative intent. Go on, admit it, how many unanswered emails / texts / WhatsApp messages do you have right now? Our communication networks are vast and complex, taking place over multiple channels. It’s not surprising that we simply can’t keep up with the pace. We have to prioritise and so we may ignore some messages in favour of others. Intentionally or otherwise.

It’s particularly easy to ghost someone that we don’t know. If someone we meet at a networking event contacts us to follow-up we may, even with the best intentions, fail to respond. We might be feeling self-conscious and keen to avoid future rejection ourselves or we might simply forget. Either way, ghosting tends to say more about the person doing it than the person experiencing the silence. But this is cold comfort for someone who is looking for work or trying to build a business relationship.

When does ghosting happen?

It’s impossible to predict when and by whom we may be ghosted. However, there are certain situations in which the likelihood of being ignored is increased; recruitment, networking and mentoring situations are all ‘high risk’.

When we are looking for a new job, we know that we won’t hear back from every potential employer. But, it’s particularly frustrating when we get further into the recruitment process and things go quiet. According to a recent report, 75% of jobseekers are ghosted after a first interview so, if this has happened to you then you are far from alone.

Networking is hard enough, but when we make the effort to contact someone after swapping emails over the vol-au-vents it can really sting when we get nothing back. We can’t help but wonder if we said something embarrassing or if the person we spoke to was just straight up lying when they told us our business idea sounded great. So awkward.

Sometimes, and perhaps most upsetting, we can be ghosted by people who we really respect and / or already have a relationship with. Whether we have plucked up the courage to ask someone to be our mentor and they have ignored us or our mentor has stopped contacting us, we can be left feeling especially adrift and disoriented.

No matter how or when it happens, it’s all too easy to assume the fault is ours, or else the function of a fundamental flaw in the other person. So, how can we survive ghosting and move on without putting ourselves through the ringer?

The importance of closure

When we are ghosted, we want to understand why. We need to make sense of the situation in order to psychologically, or even practically, move on. In the absence of any other information, we start to fill in the gaps ourselves. Because social rejection is painful, it leaves us vulnerable to our most negative thought processes; often unearthing or solidifying some of the negative beliefs we have about ourselves.

Taking charge of the situation and working to create psychological closure can help mitigate the onset of these feelings. When we have closure, we are in a better position to process the perceived rejection and move on before our confidence takes any more knocks.

Here are some of our tips to help you take back control:

  1. First, decide how important it is to chase this communication. Is it time sensitive or are you just waiting to hear back from a contact for a catch up? Knowing this can help you to put the situation into perspective.
  2. Give yourself a deadline; when will you / do you need to stop waiting for a reply and move on?
  3. Then, send a final message to the person whose response you have been waiting for. Let them know the deadline you have set but, keep it breezy. It’s important to assume that they have forgotten to contact you, rather than intentionally ignoring you.
  4. Use the same platform that you have already contacted them on. Switching modes of communication can be confusing and might come across as too pushy.
  5. If you still don’t hear from them, move on! It sounds easy but it can be hard. Telling someone you trust about the situation and how you feel can help. You’ll almost certainly find that anyone you choose to speak to, will have their own ghosting story.

Don’t be a ghost

We know how much it can hurt to be ignored but we still do it to other people, all the time. Doing this can mean that we are served up with an extra dose of guilt when it happens to us - we now know how we have made someone else feel.

So, here’s how to stop (or at least try to stop):

  1. Respond quickly. When someone contacts you but you just don’t have time to respond properly, tell them. Send a quick note back to say that you have received their email / text and that you will be in touch soon. Some people set this up as an automated email response. Nice idea but it’s far better to do this personally.
  2. Don’t forget to actually be in touch soon. Pop a note in your calendar to remind yourself of what you have committed to.
  3. Be honest. This is a tricky one and takes courage and practice, but it’s worth it. Saying no, being honest about what you can realistically take on and generally setting some boundaries for yourself will help you and other people to stop wasting time.

At Voco, we match and manage all our peer partnerships; from introductions to ending. So, no awkward conversations, no feelings of rejection and definitely no ghosting. To find out more, book a free demo today.

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