Sis, I've got a story to tell. There were thousands of dollars on the table, rent to pay, and lots of phone calls and texts in between. I mean I thought I'd found a perfect match: A mature, seasoned businessperson, a high achiever, and someone who seemingly had a good reputation. This was a win-win situation where we'd talk for hours, share stories, encourage one another, and nurture each other's interests. It was bliss, such a comforting place to finally be after dealing with the financial and emotional challenges of the pandemic.
Then suddenly the calls stopped. I could no longer reach this person by email, phone, or text, yet they were "following" my IG stories, liking LinkedIn posts, or actively tweeting. They weren't deceased or busy. Think I'm talking some raggedy fool I met on a dating site? Nah. I have a whole fiance, sis. This is a case of professional ghosting.
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I was paid dust by someone I respected and had grown to admire and depend on. I had no reason to believe there was an issue. We'd worked together previously on multiple projects, all of which were completed and paid for.
Actually, this person commended me multiple times on my great work ethic, and offered several projects to me before the ghosting even happened. After a few weeks of silence, I even sent emails inquiring about their welfare—as I was truly concerned. The messages went unanswered. Voicemails. DMs. Nothing. So you can only imagine my utter surprise and disgust when I saw them all up in my social notifications a week or so later.
Listen, I'm not the only one who has dealt with this type of B.S. A recent study found that 77 percent of job seekers have been ghosted by a prospective employer during the pandemic, and 10 percent have reported that they've even been ghosted after a job offer was given.
'Professional Ghosting' Is Indeed a Thing
One subcontractor wrote about her experience early last year and described how it "played havoc with my financial planning, my emotional being, and workflow planning." Another leadership coach talked about how it negatively impacts professional credibility of the person doing the ghosting, adding that it's a "sign of someone who avoids conflict, can't communicate honestly, and perhaps doesn't understand how disrespectful it is." Another freelancer lamented about "the gut-wrenching uncertainty and maddening second-guessing" that's involved.
On the flip side, job candidates have been found to ghost employers and recruiters as well, either due to just not being interested anymore or not knowing how to properly communicate that they've decided to take another offer. This has even hit "crisis" levels during the pandemic, with candidates just going cold and quiet in the middle of the hiring process. But this story ain't about that.
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The Gall of It All Is...
It's one thing to not get a response after follow-ups about an initial round of interviews for a job, or to hear nothing back after pitching yourself or your concept. There's a healthy understanding, on the part of job- or opportunity-seeker, that not every employer or professional has the time to send follow-up emails to the candidates who didn't make the cut or offer individual feedback on why. I also know that most recruiters and prospective employers aren't even legally obligated to follow up with a candidate or tell them their reasons for going in another direction. I get it.
But it's a whole other jar of stank, unprofessional, annoying pickles when you've gotten an offer or you're in good standing with moving forward toward landing an upcoming project only to be met with passive aggression, vague responses, or no response at all in reference to specific next steps. It's also a whole other thing when you knew the person, thought you had a good relationship with them, and they just cut you off with no explanation, .
It's even more infuriating when the "vetting" or planning process took weeks, if not months, so you'd already put in more hours of work to get ready for the multiple stages of that process and you might have even quit or turned down another opportunity in preparation for the one you thought you had in the bag.
Think about it like this: A doctor can charge people for no-shows. So can a hairstylist, therapist and others who offer quality services. When you ghost them, they see it as lost wages (because they could've given your spot to another paying client or patient in need), and it leads to a disruption of their schedules as well as their money flow.
So... what now?
For me, being professionally ghosted was devastating at the time, not simply for the potential money loss but the loss of respect and relationship with the person who ghosted me. Oftentimes, at least in my case, it's not all about the money. Cultivating relationships takes extensions of the heart and use of time that can never be replaced. I was initially very angry, then bitter, then sad, and I kept wondering what I could've done to cause the sudden cut-off. I mean, it's the lack of closure for me. Then the words of my Granny came to mind: "Silence is an answer."
Three things helped me cope and better prepare to avoid the recurrence of emotional trauma and negative financial impact in the future:
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1. Stop taking it personal. It's them, not you.
I had remind myself of why I'm great at what I do and why they're in the wrong for ghosting. I also applied grace and thought back on times when I might have made some professional mistakes, been part of misunderstandings that just couldn't be explained at the time, or made questionable decisions related to work in the past. I then thought about the idea that maybe something was indeed going terribly wrong in that person's life and it might be causing them to embrace unhealthy communication and relationship-building habits. I prayed about it, gave it to God and let it go.
It was also helpful to talk to a trusted mentor in the industry to assess the situation and give me balanced, outside-looking-in advice. A huge part of overcoming situations like this is the self-reflection, because I really didn't have control over much else.
If you need to write down your feelings in a journal, block the person just to feel like you've taken your power back, talk to a loved one to get reminders that you're an amazing person, or seek a therapist to deal with your feelings of abandonment, frustration, or anger (yes, sis, it can be that serious), do that as well. Hey, they ghosted you, so this ain't got nothing to do with being petty or dramatic. It's about learning from it and turning a negative to a positive. Word to Biggie. (Just please, avoid harassing the person with more calls, messages, or emails, and definitely don't talk about the person to others. They no longer deserve any extra energy from you.)
2. Focus on other projects and ways to enrich yourself.
Just like when they say there are "other fish in the sea" when it comes to dating, the same goes for your career opportunities. When I was ghosted by this particular person, I had other clients, so I could focus a bit less on the ghosting than if I didn't. (While ghosting can strike a huge blow to the ego, I've always been one to get pretty nervous about putting all my eggs in one basket anyway, whether it's dating, applying for jobs, or working as a freelancer.)
Just remember that there are plenty of other companies or brands who would love to hire or work with you. Edit your LinkedIn page, get more engaged on the platform, and update the settings to reflect the opportunities you're looking for. Find other platforms where you can find a community of support in your industry as well. (There's an awesome list of other platforms here.) Apply for more jobs, and take charge of your journey to be successful.
If you're unemployed, create projects for yourself like building your professional website (or redesign the one you have), and research new ways to get leads on opportunities. Try volunteer work or building relationships via offering another service you love doing and are great at. Expand your network by attending virtual events, reconnecting with professionals you may have lost touch with during quarantine, joining a professional or mentor organization, or applying for jobs in a totally different sector where your skills might be an ideal fit. Being booked, busy, and blessed (or at least present, positive, and productive) is the best revenge.
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3. Upgrade your vetting process for considering opportunities.
Sometimes we ignore signs that somebody is full of ish in business, just like we do while dating someone. In my case, this person had previously exhibited some pretty suspect behavior related to a previous person they had worked with. They'd insert comments about the other person's personal business during project-related calls with me, and they had a shaky payments and project acquisition process.
Sis, sometimes the signs are there that you might not be dealing with an ideal client or employer. For job seekers, doing a bit more research on a company before even agreeing to the interview can be helpful in avoiding a potential ghoster.
Look up their online reviews, try to connect with someone you know who has worked at the company (or with the particular brand), and find out as much as you can about whether they'd be a good fit for you before the first call—or round of calls—even happens. If you're still impressed and interested, you can peep more red flags during the first round like their urgency to get started with no plan or specifics, or their disrespect of your time when setting up meetings. (I often raise eyebrows on folk who either don't ask me when I'm available and just assume I'll be available whenever they are. Or how about those who don't really seem to be on point when it comes to knowing their own calendar and constantly feel the need to reschedule, for example.)
Ask more questions, get to know people a bit more, and try to build a discernment against BS. Maybe they're a bit overzealous, exhibit signs of stress or anxiety, or they just give you a bad feeling. Their brand or company could have even made the news due to financial problems, workplace scandal, or recent layoffs. Maybe their bare-bones website is a reflection of the type of experience they offer to potential clients or employees or the scarcity of resources. Oftentimes your gut isn't wrong about someone, whether you have proof of eminent danger or not.
You'd feel a lot less offended about a potential ghosting if, in the long run, the person or brand was not up to par in the first place, so exploring involvement wasn't really worth your time anyway.
The moral of the story is...
Nobody deserves to be professionally ghosted, and at the end of the day, it might even be an unavoidable part of life. Direct, specific and consistent communication are true indicators of great leadership, and these have been the main common factors among many of the awesome clients and brands I've been blessed to consistently work for or with.
I now operate the same on this as I have in the past while dating: Not to toot my own horn, but most men have never even had a chance to ghost me. I'd see the passive aggressive, suspect red flags super-early, and I'd kindly decline and delete. (I also approached dating with a deep sense of the fact that power is with me, not them. I do the choosing. But again, that's another story.)
I've always known that any man who wants me will make his intentions clear quite early, and he will almost immediately begin consistently communicating or taking actions to show he's serious. I look into his background and try to get to know people who know him, no matter how we met. (My fiance knew he wanted to marry me the first week we met. He's a Jamaican man who does not hold his tongue nor waste time. He also knew I thought he was crazy for even admitting that, and I reiterated that I had no plans of marrying for several years. He simply slowed his roll and showed, through consistent and deliberate action, that he was serious. Four years later, we're still together.) Any real boss operates the same way to tap into top talent, nurture relationships, and protect their reputation.
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