Several years ago, I was interviewing for a role at one of the top beauty companies in the world. I went through rounds of interviews and met key members of the cross-functional and senior leadership teams on multiple occasions at their offices.
In my very last conversation, the head of HR called me on a Friday to say, “The team loved you. We would like to put together an offer for you. Can you please remind me of your current compensation package and specifically your stock grant component?”
I was thrilled. I immediately provided the details. She thanked me for my time. She said she would call me first thing Monday morning with the offer details.
She didn’t call me first thing Monday morning. She didn’t call me later that afternoon, or later that week, or the Monday after that. She never called me again.
I followed up a few times. Maybe she’s just busy. Maybe something happened to her (Oh god, I hope she’s ok!). Maybe she lost my contact information. And then I realized I had invested my time and effort into a process that would never receive any closure: I was a victim of ghosting. I had been ghosted. She would never reach out to me again.
Since then, I have been ghosted more times than I can remember in my career. And the hard truth is, I have also ghosted people. I, too, have been the ghoster.
What is ghosting? Ghosting is to completely stop responding over text, email, or phone (insert your preferred mode of communication here) after having been responsive and in touch with someone over a distinct period of time for a specific business objective.
The business objectives during which the ghosting occurs can be a wide variety, including being in the process of prospecting a new client, interviewing for a job, raising funds for a non-profit event, a promised introduction to another industry contact, or seeking investors for a new venture.
Please note: Ghosting does not include cold emailing, cold calling, or cold LinkedIn messaging. If the person doesn’t know you, they don’t actually owe you a response. It’s not considered ghosting. Unless you call me Rita instead of Mita, I try to respond when someone reaches out to me even if I don’t know them.
So why have I ghosted people?
Because I was uncomfortable with the request, because I didn’t have time, because I could no longer deliver on what I had promised. Because I had said yes when I should have said no. Because I am working, teaching, and parenting (all during a pandemic). Because I was scared to respond with the truth and I didn’t want to hurt them.
If we acknowledge what’s holding us back from engaging and push through to respond, we show up as the leaders we want to be, acting with kindness and empathy. Here are three ways we can stop ghosting once and for all.
1. Be Timely
To avoid potential ghosting, I try to respond to people within 72 hours (during a pandemic, it might be closer to a week) when they reach back out with a quick one-liner: Thanks for checking in. It’s a busy time. Please reach back out in two weeks.
The ghosting can begin when you simply don’t have an answer for that person yet. You might not know what your response should be. You might have a response and realize it should be a phone call or a longer email.
If I don’t respond because I don’t have a response yet, and too much time passes, I am slipping into ghosting territory.
2. Be Honest and Transparent
No one wants to deliver bad news. And what’s worse than bad news is no closure, obsessively refreshing your inbox and checking your phone incessantly. We are living in limbo during this pandemic; there’s no need to add any more uncertainty or stress on each other.
When I think back to the offer I never received on that Monday morning, how would I have handled it as the head of HR? A simple email would have sufficed: “We have decided to move ahead with another candidate. We wish you the best of luck in your career endeavors.”
Any additional insight would have been appreciated given the amount of time I spent interviewing (i.e. not aligning on salary expectations or looking for someone with more technical experience). I would have been upset, but the ghosting was far worse. I was left with an incredibly negative impression of the company that I didn’t hesitate to share with others in my network.
Unfortunately, budgets were cut and we can’t proceed with the proposal.
Unfortunately, we have a hiring freeze now and the role is no longer open.
Unfortunately, we don’t believe this is the right fit for us and we won’t be proceeding with the partnership.
We all are owed the respect of closure. We would want it for ourselves. And we have the power to give closure to others.
3. Be Clear on What You Can and Can’t Commit To
Recently, I was asked by two individuals if I could mentor them. While I wanted to say yes, I knew I couldn’t give them the time they deserved. If I did say yes to avoid saying no, I would eventually not have time to mentor them and ultimately ghost them.
And while I hesitated to respond to their requests with the truth, I knew if I ghosted them I would risk damaging these relationships. So I told them I was humbled they thought of me and with a new job and raising young kids in this pandemic, I just couldn’t commit right now. Each individual responded saying they understood and looked forward to keeping in touch.
Please don’t say yes when you mean to say no. Please be clear on what you can and cannot commit to. And if you committed to something and can no longer deliver on what you agreed to, just speak up. Let individuals know your circumstances have changed. While they may be disappointed, they will appreciate your honesty and respect you for being accountable and for not disappearing on them, never to be heard from again.
About the Author: Mita Mallick is a corporate change-maker with a track record of transforming businesses and cultures. She is the head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta. Mallick is a columnist for Entrepreneur, and her writing has been published in outlets including Harvard Business Review, The New York Post, and Business Insider.