The Unfortunate Trend of Workplace “Ghosting”

Shhh. Do you hear anything? That silence is the sound of somebody not communicating with you at work. You pinged them with a question. You invited them to a meeting. But you received no response. You have been ghosted.

You might not be familiar with the term “ghosting.” Basically, it refers to when somebody abruptly cuts off all communication with another person. If you have heard this term it was probably in reference to personal relationships.

But ghosting happens in the workplace as well. Maybe it has even happened to you.

It might be a no-show to a meeting. It might be an unanswered email or listless chat pinging to no reply. The worst part is that post-ghost, it is you who ends up feeling invisible — not the other way around.

But before you assume your co-worker or boss is being a workplace monster, first consider that they might not be ghosting you intentionally. There might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for why they are not getting back to you. Like an accidentally closed chat window or an overly strict spam filter.

Here is the thing though — we all rely on others to get work done. So whether the ghosting is innocent or nefarious, the important thing is to recognize the behavior.

Here are seven types of workplace ghosts to look out for:

The email wraith
At first you think they might have accidentally deleted your email. But when they refuse to respond to your follow-ups, you know you are no longer dealing with a person, but a digital shadow.

The phantom chatter
One moment you were having a productive conversation over instant message. The next moment — gone. You can check with teammates to see if they have seen or heard from the phantom chatter. But give this spirit time… they usually reappear.

The poltergeist
The poltergeist is noisy. You see them carrying on, but when you direct a question or comment their way? Eerie silence. This is usually the clearest case of intentional ghosting — but try to give them the benefit of the doubt until you understand where they vanished to.

The spirit candidate
This prospective hire seems promising and interested in the job. But then, a no-show for an interview. Huh? And no response to an email. Where did they go? Best to wish this job candidate well in their next life.

The meeting apparition
Your co-worker seems to have disappeared to the netherworld just as you were supposed to meet up. Did they forget? Did something else come up that was more important? The longer you wait, the more frustrating this creature becomes.

The ethereal boss
You see this person roaming the halls or active online. But when you try to track your boss down… they quickly vanish into the mist. Likely, it is not just you — your co-workers rarely see this spirit either.

The revenant
If you keep after somebody who is ghosting you, they will eventually resurface and finally fulfill their earthly responsibilities. This is the only good kind of workplace ghost — a revenant is one who returns from the afterlife.

Being ghosted is never fun — but it is nothing to be afraid of either. Ghosts lurk in the shadows where little harm (or work) is done.

Be understanding but persistent. If the ghost is unresponsive on one channel, try a different one to see if you have better success. You can even go see them in person if you have the option.

I know it can be uncomfortable to continuously follow up with somebody who refuses to interact with you. But remind yourself that you can only control yourself, do your best work, and try not to jump when you do not hear boo!

Have you ever been ghosted? What did you do to get that person’s attention?

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About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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