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“Connecting you two amazing women!” my friend Karen emailed one Monday morning. I had known this email was coming because Karen had told me that her friend Stephanie was interested in connecting. As a mentor to many and an uber-networker, I never decline an introduction. Hey, you never know what one introduction can do, right? I responded immediately thanking Karen for the introduction, moved her to bcc (per good manners in sparing her inbox) and reached out enthusiastically to Stephanie. After sending that email, I didn’t think about it again until Thursday when a different “Stephanie” popped into my inbox. Hmm, I thought, where is the Stephanie that was so eager to connect? Stephanie’s email was nowhere to be found. I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I went into my sent folder and re-sent the email as if it was the first time. Still nothing. Ever.
This behavior is what I like to call workplace ghosting. Not only was Stephanie being rude to me, but she was also extremely disrespectful to Karen, asking her to make an introduction that she then ignored. It baffles me. There are many forms of workplace ghosting. As a fun way to categorize these offenses, I have referenced them below as various versions of Casper The Friendly Ghost. Please do all your professional contacts a favor and make sure you are not one of them.
1. Casper The ’Hiring’ Ghost: 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. Once handed in, HR is never to be heard from again. No, no and also, no. Dear HR Managers everywhere, value the time a candidate takes to apply to your company, to impress your team and to give you their ideas. People are okay hearing that they didn’t get the job, but silence kills. The same goes for consultants everywhere who spend tireless hours creating proposals only to get radio silence once sent in.
2. Casper The ‘Job-Seeking’ Ghost: Poor form kids, poor form. Michelle Madhok, CEO and founder of shefinds.com, adds,”Job candidates have been ghosting lately. There was a woman we 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!”
3. Casper The ‘Lying’ Ghost: This is the person who yeses you to death. Management level is notorious for this ghosting move, where they tell you that they want to hire you, that they want to move fast and then you never hear from them again. Mic drop.
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4. Casper 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!” Repeated cancellations can hurt a friendship. Serial ghosters do not deserve time on your calendar.
5. Casper The ‘Intimidated’ Ghost: I find this usually happens with younger candidates who get freaked out when someone actually responds to their request for advice or mentorship. People, there is nothing to be intimidated by. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help! The worst someone could say is no. The good people will respond. Don’t ghost them by disappearing. Jen Nedeau, a communications and marketing expert based in Washington, DC adds, “I am pretty firm with young women who come and ask me for advice. I tell them I want them to follow up; I want to know where they land and what they decide to do for next steps. I hate never hearing back from people I spend time with, so I’m pretty instructive.”
6. Casper The ‘Clueless’ Ghost: Similar to point five, except these younger candidates simply do not value the idea of professional relationships and building a strong network. Breaking news, your network is your most valuable professional asset. It’s often even more important than the skills you have. Also, industries are small. Your reputation doesn’t follow you everywhere; it gets there before you do.
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7. Casper the ‘User’ Ghost: This person is extremely responsive when she wants something and is unresponsive when she’s gotten what needs and no longer has a use for you. Trust me; she’s seeing your email and totally ignoring it. Rest assure she will pop up the next time she needs something, though. It’s up to you to keep the scorecard.
8. Casper The ‘Non-Confrontational’ 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.
9. Casper The ‘Drowning’ Ghost: This person is a bit easier to excuse. She’s just overwhelmed with her life, her work and her inbox. Her time-management skills need sharpening. She means well and she doesn’t intend to ignore your email, she’s just 5,432 emails away from seeing it. If you know someone like this, it’s always wise to follow-up multiple times. A professional who wished to remain anonymous added this clarification, “I am a horrible professional ghost— it comes from having one job, two startups I’m advising, two nonprofit boards and no admin to help my ADD brain get through it all. I’ve installed the Assistant.to extension to ensure I actually set up meetings with people. Trello is helping too.”
10. Casper The ‘She’s Not That Into You’ Ghost: She never responds to emails and you keep on making excuses for her silence. Well, it’s not that she’s busy, it’s that she’s not that into you. At some point along the span of your friendship, she decided that you’re not the person she wants to Venmo with anymore. Take it personally and try and take stock on why.
11. Casper The ‘Can’t Deal’ Ghost: This person doesn’t have time to think, so if someone writes “My schedule’s open,” this person often takes a very long time to respond. It’s not because she doesn’t want to make plans, it’s just that it takes more cognitive effort for her to find times that work. Lesson: Check your calendar first and offer several specific dates/times that work for you, so at least there’s a good jumping off point. Assistant.to is another solution that many high-powered friends find useful.
12. Casper The ‘Legit Busy’ Ghost: This person has a high-powered job that keeps her at the edge of her seat, constantly juggling balls and putting out fires. In an attempt at her own survival, she must prioritize urgent emails first and ignore the others. She assumes that if something is really important, that person will reach out again. As an aside, Jeff Bezos has a similar email rule of thumb. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, had the following to say about the Amazon CEO’s email strategy: “Jeff Bezos once told me that he tells everyone that if you email him, you’ll get an answer either within 10 minutes, or never. He’s a funny guy, so this was a joke, but in my experience, only halfway a joke.”
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13. Casper The ‘Unprofessional’ Ghost: This is perhaps the worst offender. There many different examples of the Unprofessional Ghost. Quinn Heraty, attorney at Heraty Law PLLC shares, “In the 15 years I’ve been running my business, I’ve had one client ghost on me. It is unprofessional, very poor form. I always receive a deposit before I start work, so she didn’t owe me money for the work I had done for her, but her lack of response created a situation where I had to do unpaid work (filing a motion to withdraw). Not to mention the time and frustration included in continuing to follow up with no responses from her. I won’t be working with her again. 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.”
14. Casper the ‘Information Seeker’ Ghost: Kristin Luck, Growth Strategist at Luck Collective, shares, “A guy reached out to me for help (he wanted to know how I launched my growth strategy practice), I replied with a few questions….then….crickets. As a neurotic responder, it’s baffling to me. If I don’t have time to meaningfully respond to something then it literally takes me two seconds to say, “Hey, I received your email, I’m totally plowed under but will respond later this week.” Then I file it in my ‘Needs Response’ folder, (yes, I literally have a folder titled that) which I generally get to at night or on the weekend.”
Bottom line: Be a treat, NOT a trick.