It was a workday like any other. I refreshed myself on my new client’s notes from our initial consultation. With headphones on, I looked at the clock as our start time came and went. After a few minutes, I sent a text. “Ready when you are!” No reply or incoming call. So I called. It rang and went to voicemail. 20 minutes passed and I realized I wouldn’t be hearing from him and became concerned: ‘Is he ok? Has something happened?’. I sent a concerned email and text. This was months ago, and I never heard from him again.

This was a first for me on the client front. I was talking with a business-owner friend and made mention of it. She emphatically said, “YOU TOO?! This has been happening to me with recent investor calls.”
So I casually asked some other business owners: Have you been ghosted before in your professional relationships? They all said ‘yes!’.

The term ‘ghosting’ is well-known in dating culture. You’re regularly in communication with someone, maybe even go out on a date or more, and then never hearing from him/her/them again.

My take on this is fairly straightforward: more often than not, the ghoster is choosing to avoid short-term pain (awkwardness, hurt feelings, and so on) so, therefore, says nothing. Nevertheless, the result is often confusion, hurt feelings, and extra time and energy spent making heads-or-tails of it from the ghostee who asks things like, ‘Is it something I did/said?’, ‘Sid my correspondence go through to them?’, ‘Are they ok??’.

Rather than take imperfect action paired with an intention of respect, they create a wake in their trail and keep it moving.

My hypothesis extends to business relationships. People are busy. We think more about our needs and wants than those of others because we and our immediate others are our priorities. And/or, we have become people pleasers over time, so the idea of displeasing someone feels too difficult. So, while the end result will be the same, we bury our heads in the sand. Frankly, our brains are looking to avoid pain, so we rationalize that it’s better to keep it moving.

When I moved to the South from the Northeast, I was flummoxed by something I’d discovered that was strikingly different: people would tell me ‘no’ less often. Instead, they’d say things like ‘Send me info’ or ‘Let me get back to you’. Naively at first, I’d follow up and up and up…. Until I realized that this was code for ‘Thanks, but no, thanks’. I oddly missed the days where someone would directly (albeit sometimes too much so) tell me no and save me the time and energy upfront.

Yes, of course, there are times when it takes sending info and doing follow-up. The distinction is whether or not the communication is direct or a stalling tactic, hoping to wear out the other and get off the hook from having to say the thing they really mean: I’m not interested.

Yet, that just might be the most humane and considerate thing to say. “Hi, yes, thank you for your time but I’m no longer interested.”

Maybe it will sting for both parties just the slightest bit. 

And, that’s ok. 

I have a hunch you’ll both be better off for it.