What to Do If You Get Ghosted at Work, Because It Isn’t Just a Dating Thing Anymore

Photo: Getty Images/Luis Alvarez + W+G Creative

Ghosting in the dating scene is all too familiar of a pest with which we have to contend. But a lesser-known reality of the phenomenon is that it's also very much possible to get ghosted at work. “Professional ghosting is when a potential client, colleague, hiring manager, or anyone with whom you have a professional relationship goes completely dark on you,” says executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson. “They choose not to reply to your emails, texts, or phone calls with zero explanation.”

And, to be clear, getting ghosted at work is bidirectional, meaning it's a nefarious tool that employers and employees alike can use. In the job-hunting process, for example, sometimes the employer doesn’t let the candidate know they decided to go with someone else. Other times, it's the candidate who doesn’t respond to the employer, or doesn’t show up for their first day of work, says Michelle Armer, chief people officer at CareerBuilder.

“Professional ghosting is when a potential client, colleague, hiring manager, or anyone with whom you have a professional relationship goes completely dark on you.” —executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson

Professional ghosting can also certainly transpire in internal situations with a job and workplace you already have. Perhaps your boss conveniently “lost” the message you sent asking for a performance review or raise. Or a colleague is dodging you because they haven't completed their part of a project you're spearheading together.

Whatever the scenario may be, getting ghosted sucks. To better understand why it happens so you can deal with it better when does happen and also have tools to stop it in its tracks moving forward, check out intel from career experts below.

4 reasons you might get ghosted at work

1. There's no update to share about a potential job opportunity

Sometimes, the reason a hiring manager hasn't gotten back to you is they simply have no new news. “Employers sometimes ‘ghost’ a potential employee after an interview because they don’t have an update from the team about how they want to proceed with the candidate,” Armer says.

The same principle holds true for other professional collaboration, as well: A colleague or manager or client may be waiting to hear back from someone else before they respond to you. So, try as best as you can to hold tight for the time being.

2. It's not fun to deliver bad news

Would you want to be tasked with telling a job candidate they weren’t chosen for a position? Or that you and your team are no longer moving forward with your collaboration? Since bearing bad news is hardly enjoyable, ghosting can be a tool for evading reality, Armer says. On the receiving end of it, though, getting closure—even if it does include lousy news—is obviously preferable to receiving no news.

3. They’d rather not deal with the issue

A core reason professional ghosting happens is that people “are naturally averse to what they may perceive as confrontation,” says Pearson. They find it easier to ignore the issue and hope it goes away on its own rather than addressing it directly.

4. it's actually a case of simply being really busy

It's certainly possible that there was no intent of ghosting at play. “Everyone is overwhelmed and overcommitted,” says Scott Miller, executive vice president of FranklinCovey, a time-management and training-tools provider. “Assume good intent in everyone, and understand that the other person will make you a priority most likely on their schedule, not yours.”

3 ways to protect yourself against getting ghosted at work

1. Look for warning signs

A potential professional ghoster may drop some hints that you would be wise to keep an eye out for. For instance, “they may seem flaky, disconnected, or distracted during initial meetings or phone calls,” Pearson says. “If you get the feeling they’re non-committal, be sure to clarify expectations and agree to next steps before ever doing work for or with them.”

2. Make a lasting impression

Another way to ensure an employer, potential client, or any other professional connection gets back to you is to make a memorable first impression. Two strategies Armer suggests include doing your research prior to connecting (like, by knowing everything you can about a company before interviewing with them) and sending a thank-you note afterward. The thank-you note—which she says you can send via email or snail mail—provides the added benefit of allowing you to expand on anything you might have missed the first time around.

3. State your intent clearly

Even if it’s uncomfortable for you to be crystal clear from the get-go, doing so is an A+ strategy for shielding yourself against ghosters. “Move outside your comfort zone and declare your intent upfront.” Miller says. “Be certain to balance courage and consideration while doing so. This strategy can greatly minimize both conflict and disappointment on both sides.”

5 tips for dealing if you do get ghosted at work

Even if you say and do all the right things, there's still a chance you may get ghosted at work. If that happens, though, all is not lost—here's how to deal.

1. Follow up

Reach out via email at least twice before you throw in the towel and move on, says Pearson, who adds that you should avoid apologetic phrases like “I hate to be a pest” or “so sorry to bother you.” Err on the side of cool, not desperate.

2. Remember, rejection is protection

In the grand scheme, rejection means someone wasn't the best fit for you, and someone or something else out there is. Since you wouldn’t want to work for a company or with a client who is inconsiderate, embrace the situation of being ignored after your two follow-ups as a blessing of sorts.

3. Set up a formal meeting, if possible

If your boss or colleague is the one whose been dodging you, try booking time on their calendar to discuss the matter. “You have to be your own advocate, and your boss should honor your requests in a timely manner—period,” Pearson says.

4. Send a goodbye email

If a client is the one who's ignoring you, though, send a professional goodbye email that won't burn any future bridges. “It’s fair to write an email stating how you’re disappointed you won’t be working together but that you are always willing to pick up where you left off if they have a change of heart in the future,” Pearson says. “As long as you show appreciation for the opportunity, you’ll never be the one doing the bridge-burning.”

5. Keep your cool to protect your reputation

Although getting ghosted at work or anywhere else stinks no matter what, always make your own attitude your first concern because the last thing you want to do is ruin your reputation. “It’s a small world out there, and your reputation is your most important asset,” Miller says.

Other workplace conundrums to clear up? How to deal with professional bullying, and what to do if you want to change careers but don't know where to start.

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