Getting ghosted is an ever more present and unsettling reality—an unwelcome byproduct of a world where people feel more disconnected from each other than ever.
The term “ghosting” first appeared in the world of dating, particularly online dating. But this abrupt ending of communication has spread to other areas of our lives. It is common for companies to ghost job applicants, or for coworkers and acquaintances to ghost each other.
It’s not surprising that ghosting is becoming more common, given the fact that face-to-face communication is sadly on the decline. Yet, this way of communicating (or not communicating, rather) is troubling, particularly at a time when most of us crave understanding, empathy, and connection.
Here’s what to do when you’re ghosted in these four situations.
1. If a company ghosts you
This happens far too often. A recent study by Indeed reported that 77% of job seekers have been ghosted by a prospective employer in the past year–10% even after a verbal job offer was made. Only 27% of employers say they haven’t ghosted a job seeker in the past year. (Plenty of job seekers are also ghosting prospective employers, for what it’s worth.)
I know a talented millennial who was seeking employment and was contacted by a recruiter and given a time slot for an interview. He was thrilled, and at the scheduled time, he dialed the recruiter up. Not only did she not answer, she never called him back. This practice is unfortunate, because now he’ll never want to work for that company she represented.
If this happens to you, you may justly feel anger, rejection, and disappointment. It feels bad when you apply and then hear nothing. If you get ghosted, follow up with a phone inquiry after a week, and if the employer doesn’t respond, consider yourself lucky that you won’t be joining that enterprise. They’d be just as problematic to you if you came aboard.
2. If a new acquaintance ghosts you
Suppose a new acquaintance ghosts you. You’ve had a nice chat with them at a networking event, and your new acquaintance even ended the conversation by suggesting you stay in touch. So, you do just that, and hear nothing in return.
You think, “What did I do wrong? Maybe I made a bad impression.” But don’t question yourself. This person might simply have said “let’s stay in touch” as a formality. That’s no reflection of how the person feels about you. Or, if this is an executive you would like some assistance from, it’s your responsibility to pursue him.
If you really want this relationship to work, try contacting this acquaintance again via a different mode of communication. If you sent an email, now try a text, or reach out to a mutual friend. If it’s in your interest to persist, do so! Otherwise, let it go.
3. If a colleague ghosts you
There are times when you may feel you’re getting what Erica Dhawan in her book, Digital Body Language, calls “the silent treatment” from a colleague.
This can take the form of delayed emails, texts, or unanswered meeting invitations. You may have expected a reply within a day or two. But it’s been two weeks. This, according to Dhawan, creates “timing anxiety,” which “can last hours, days, weeks.” You wonder: Was the other person just busy? Did your email end up in a spam folder? Or is the person not returning your message on purpose?
Dhawan advises that you begin by recognizing that instant messaging has created “the expectation for immediate responses.” So, “don’t jump to conclusions. Unless it’s critical that you get a reply ASAP, remember that people may have a lot on their plates. If you follow up twice with no response, switch to a different medium.”
I would also suggest you be specific when asking for a response. Did you say you needed a reply in the next few days? Or did you leave the response time vague? If you don’t indicate any urgency, your colleague may be justified in letting other things take priority. Close your email with a clear request: “I would appreciate the answer by Friday, since I need to let our client know what we can do.”
4. If a friend ghosts you
We trust our friends to get back to us when we write or call. We invest a lot of emotional capital in our friendships.
I was ghosted by a friend 10 years ago. She suddenly blocked me from her life. She was promoted to a CEO role, and I called to congratulate her and take her to lunch. She wasn’t available, and eventually the assistant called to say she was not interested in having lunch with me. I still to this day don’t have the foggiest notion of why she ghosted me.
If a friend ghosts you, do your best to sit down with them and talk through whatever the issue was. If they are unwilling to accept your call or meet with you, don’t beat up on yourself. Move on. You deserve better.