In the 2009 romantic comedy, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Matthew McConaughey’s character Conor is a notorious flirt who burns and churns women without notice
The movie brings back the living ghosts of three women he has rejected and the impact his behaviour had on their esteem and lives.
In ‘happy ending’ Hollywood fashion, Conor realises the errors of his ways. He accepts he had been a total jerk. It concludes with his commitment to changing his attitudes and behaviour.
Now I will bet a years’ worth of chocolate and wine that every Marketing reader has been ghosted and/or been the ghoster professionally and personally.
I can hear the gulps as eyes dart across the screen self reflecting on the ethereal behaviour.
The prevalence of ghosting
Ghosting is a decision pure and simple! It is not about forgetful or lackadaisical behaviour. It’s a conscious decision made to ignore and dismiss another person. It’s a form of abuse.
Ghosting is not just the domain of dating and friendships and relationships. It’s become a default and lazy response in business, marketing and of course is long standing in the hiring and recruitment ecosystem.
At stake is personal and business brand reputations and trust. Memories can be long. A ghoster today may be in a position down the track where they are pitching to the ghosted. This won’t go down well!
Clients ghost suppliers, suppliers ghost clients. Colleagues ghost each other, the list is endless.
The heinous level of ghosting by recruiters, HR and hiring companies to candidates is well documented and lamented. The damage it causes can be profound on so many levels.
But now in a talent gap market with companies scrambling to fill roles, candidates are ghosting recruiters and hiring companies.
They are ghosting at all timelines after initial application right through to offer and contract stages.
The rebuttal is often ‘so what! Candidates get ghosted all the time, who cares it’s our turn now”. Whoa, this is just not on as the tide turns and two wrongs never make a right.
Caveat is if a person is abusive or dangerous that is fair reason to ignore/ghost. But for the other 98 percent of the time it doesn’t pass the pub test of professional decency.
Why people ghost
An aversion to having difficult conversations and delivering unwelcome feedback is the front runner of why people ghost. Fears of backlash alongside a lack of communication skills and EQ to handle issues also stokes ghosting behaviours.
If ghosting occurs due to a change of mind or decision, it can raise issues of self doubt and self esteem. It can mean that the ghoster realises they didn’t think things through and that can be a hard pill to admit and swallow.
- Lack of communication skills in handling difficult conversations
- Conflict adverse – avoids all conflict as terrified of repercussions
- Lazy or arrogant with low EQ
- Little or no empathy and care of others
- Get out of jail attitude as there are seemingly no immediate consequences
- Guilty conscience. Unable to apologise or make mends
In her book Dare to Lead Brené Brown states ‘to be clear is kind and to be unclear is unkind”: How that translates into why people ghost is valuable insights.
Brené shares that the reason people will avoid giving feedback is “an avoidance of clarity because we tell ourselves we’re being kind; when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair”.
“Feeding people half-truths or bulls**t to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.”
I see how this can speak to why risk averse people ghost. They don’t want to be unkind to another person in sharing their truth. So they don’t share anything and ghost. Not a good strategy for either party.
Impact of ghosting
The effects can be minor and annoying temporarily to debilitating and destructive long term. You never know where someone is at and if your behaviour was a straw that broke a camel’s back. Or you may just have pissed them off and they move on.
- Emotional, mental health and self belief/esteem
- Financial and time wastage for candidates and businesses
- Reputation damage, destroys trust
- Businesses productivity and resources limited
How to mitigate and stop it
- Recognise that ghosting is a form of abuse.
- Take a third person perspective of self-reflection.
- Commit to courage and ethics in your personal brand communications.
- Call it out when you observe others ghosting people in your agency or organisation. Just like racism, sexism speak up.
- Learn the skills to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations. There are so many resources available to support better communications and strategies to support change and uncomfortable change.
The marketing world has some of the best communicators and creative minds around. There are so many ways to level up and share difficult feedback and news. Ghosting just is not good enough. Personal brands and business reputations are at stake.
Keep ghosting for children’s parties and Halloween!