Let’s call ghosting what it really is …

I belong to an online group for freelancers in the ad industry. It’s on Facebook. Yesterday morning someone posted about a recent experience she had.

She’d been talking with someone about possibly doing some work together and suddenly the conversation just stopped. No reason, no explanation, no nothing. She wanted to know if “ghosting” is common in the industry — she’s spent a lot of time working in Europe, where apparently business is conducted differently.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen posts like this. It’s an all-too-common occurrence. And I’ve got to tell you, I’ve experienced it myself, more times than I care to think about.

It may be called ghosting in 2019, but what it really is, is rude. And there was a time when it wouldn’t have been tolerated. And it shouldn’t be now.

When did this become okay? When did it become routine? When did it become business as usual?

Call me old fashioned, but there are no circumstances under which I think it’s okay. Being busy isn’t an excuse. Changing your mind isn’t an excuse. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the idea, the quote is too high, the job got canceled or the candidate isn’t right for the job.

Leaving people hanging is rude and disrespectful.

Whoever is on the other end of the interaction is entitled to the courtesy of a response. A phone call, an email, a letter, a form letter, a text — it doesn’t matter. Something — so they are not left wondering what is going on, what they might have done wrong or differently, what does or doesn’t come next, whatever. So they can move on and, incidentally, so they can walk away with a good impression of you — which should matter to you. Because you never know, you may want or need something from them some day.

Silence is not an acceptable response.

Frank Bruni is a New York Times columnist. I read his column religiously and also subscribe to his newsletter. I love his writing. Last week he wrote something that really resonated with me and I sent him an email, never expecting to hear back. Well, it didn’t take a half-hour and an email from him, thanking me, popped into my inbox. I was shocked. I still can’t get over it.

There is no doubt in my mind that Frank Bruni is busier and has more people contacting him than anyone reading this blog or, for that matter, most of the people who are guilty of doing exactly what I’m writing about. Yet he found the time to acknowledge my email. Can he do that all the time? No, and no one writing him should expect it. I surely didn’t. But the fact that he does it at all speaks volumes about his character — and his manners.

As for all of you who think it doesn’t matter if you don’t answer your phone even when you’re there, routinely ignore emails and think it’s perfectly acceptable to blow people off without a word of explanation, I have this to say:

We live in unstable times. Business is precarious. I don’t know of any business — in or outside of advertising enjoying remarkable success right now. One of these days you could find yourselves on the wrong side of a pink slip. How will you feel if your calls or emails or letters or job applications are ignored? How will you feel if you pitch a piece of business or submit a quote and hear nothing back?

Yes, it could happen. After all, you do it.




26 thoughts on “Let’s call ghosting what it really is …

  1. The loss of decency and good manners has been on my mind since my trip to visit family a couple of weeks ago. The kids have Google Home to do their bidding – turn on the lights, turn on the tunes, tell me how far it is to the grocery store, all by voice command. It’s something novel and held a certain fascinating appeal for me. But when I tried it, I was very uncomfortable with it because I didn’t like being the master commanding the slave. “Hey Google, turn on the lights.” I had to fight the impulse to add “please.” If I did, it messed up the algorithm. Google didn’t understand! And after “she” did my bidding, I wanted to say “Thanks,” but that was met with silence.

    I can’t help but wonder if manners have been cut out of the equation these days with all the technological “improvements.” Taking the time to type out a message to explain is somehow more work than some people can manage.

    • You make a very interesting point. I never thought about the role technology might be playing in this. The comments on that post in the freelance group were very interesting. Several people in the group are obviously guilty of leaving people hanging because they were very defensive, and tried to make excuses for not getting back to people — most of which were variations of “poor me, I am working so hard and have no time to get back to so many people and you should feel sorry for me and don’t take it personally.” Lack of manners, lack of empathy, a sense of entitlement and self-absorbed. That’s where we’re at now. A sad state of affairs.

  2. Well said, Fransi! Sometimes, I think people are lazy; sometimes inconsiderate—sometimes both. Either way, it’s extremely rude. But then, courtesy doesn’t seem to be valued as much these days. I’ve also had people tell me they didn’t return a call or follow up on a proposal because they just didn’t have the heart to say “no” to me. How gutless! For heaven’s sake, if you aren’t able to say “yes,” I want to hear “no.” It lets me know I can move on to the next option. I’m glad there are still people like Frank Bruni who model courtesy and consideration.

    • Thanks Donna. I so agree with you. And it’s interesting. I just had an online FB chat with a former colleague who recently moved to the UK from Munich. He is experiencing this in England and he said people there are uncomfortable about saying no, so they just ignore you instead. Shocking!! Yes, thankfully there are still Frank Bruni’s in this world!

  3. This was something that I found upsetting when out of work……. applications sent off by the dozen, and no response. To be ignored is rude and disrespectful.
    I was brought up to say please and thank you, and if someone wrote to me, I responded.
    I carry this into my blog. I love the interaction and will acknowledge a comment with another, a like, or a smiley. It matters to me, that someone has taken the time to not only read my post, but felt enough to comment on it.

  4. It irritates me when people say they can’t reply to emails because they get so many. If they unsubscribed to all the garbage, blocked the spam and checked their inbox daily so it doesn’t pile up, that may help. Otherwise, why bother having email at all?

  5. So true. Often left hanging wondering if I am still being considered or not. Just a quick word, email is all required. I don’t know what has happened to manners. I am now on this end but when I was working I always called everyone back. It is simply polite and proper protocol. Don’t give me the “I’m so busy” BS.


    • With you 100%. I’m freelance now but when I worked full time I was the same — everyone who ever contacted me for anything always heard back from me. I respond to every comment made on my blog, the articles I write and everything I post on social media. It is just common courtesy — which, sadly, is in short supply these days. I can’t stand it.

  6. We had a social media volunteer take over our Instagram account. The first thing he did was tell us that everything there was terrible and should be deleted. They then did a couple of posts……and ghost. As if they were never there. Texts and emails go unanswered.

    I got an urgent message from a friend I haven’t seen in years, but I knew them well. They desperately needed a small sum of money, $150, and promised to pay it back the next month….they have ghosted me since.

    Rude doen’t quite describe it.

    • So sorry to hear you’ve had to go through this. To treat anyone this way is disgusting, but to do it to a charitable foundation is as low as it gets. As for your “friend,” all I can say is, some friend! It’s not just the planet that’s in bad shape — so is the human race 😪

    • Well I respectfully disagree. I wrote that blog post because of an experience someone had — which I talk about. There were a number of recruiters and head hunters who read the post when I posted it on Facebook and they tried to defend themselves by saying: “I’m too busy to get back to the huge number of people who apply for the jobs I have. They should understand that if I don’t get back to them, I’m not interested in them.” Others said “I am not comfortable saying no to people, so I say nothing.”

      So they think that silence is a response.

      Sorry, but I do not. I maintain, “silence is not an acceptable response.”

  7. I have just worked out that I have been ghosted by my daughters – or have I? I mean they are quite happy to hack my devices and cause issues but talk? communicate? oh no whats that? Admittedly its a really shitty situation right now with lots going on but technically, yeah they ghosted me and a year down the line we are now fighting it out in the courts. I agree – its despicable behaviour. Good blog. I’m at pathofdestruction.net :)x

  8. I don’t use Facebook anymore so haven’t had this happen to me for a long while (but it often used to and I just put it down to the rapid-distraction factor of the site), I often don’t reply to emails straight away (health issues: I don’t have the energy) but if I think it’s going to be a long time, I’ll send an interim message to let the person know.

    For me, the worst thing is when people don’t reply to blog comments in their own blogs. I tend not to follow that type of blogger.

    • Health issues are certainly a valid reason for a slow response and it’s very good of you to send an interim message. And I agree totally about bloggers who don’t reply to comments. If someone takes the time to read and comment, they deserve a response. No question about it.

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