Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Ghosted at Work

An idea for the ghosted and a tongue-lashing for the ghoster.

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

The term “ghosting” originated in the dating world, in which, to avoid the awkwardness of saying, “No,” the person just goes silent: stops returning calls, emails, and texts.

Alas, ghosting has metastasized into the work world. For example:

  • Your boss said you’d get that promotion soon. Months pass and nothing. You’ve been ghosted.
  • You applied for a job, worked hard on the application, went through a tough interview or three and then waited, and waited. The silence never ended. You've been ghosted.
  • A co-worked promised to get you a work-product by Monday....Silence. You've been ghosted.

Ghosting at work is accelerating perhaps because people are busier and more stressed and so more likely to choose convenience over courtesy. After all, not responding is not only easier, but in saying "No," a person is forced into a no-win: If the ghoster tells the true reason for the “no” — for example, that the job applicant is less intelligent than the winning candidate — that risks an angry or defensive response if not a lawsuit. But if the ghoster gives the standard vague but bulletproof, “We hired a better fit for the position” the ghoster has spent time and given the person nothing useful. Yet simply saying no without explanation may well result in the person coming back and asking for one. So many people decide it’s easier to ghost.

A person may even use ghosting to punish someone they dislike. For example, you asked a co-worker to write something that will help you get a project done by Monday. The person agrees but privately resents it or dislikes you and decides to not do the work and to ghost you, leaving you hanging in that no-win of having to nag on Monday or stew hoping the work will soon get done.

The Ghosted’s 3-Step

Getting ghosted can make you feel unimportant. It could even reinforce your worry that you’re an unworthy human being. There’s no way to avoid such a feeling at that first moment you're thinking you've been ghosted—that’s a reflex. But after that, you have some control over your thinking and behavior. Get in the habit of doing the Ghosted's 3-Step:

1. Reflect on your role in having been ghosted. Was it unreasonable for you, for example, to apply for that job, ask for the raise, or ask the person to help you? Or if your request was reasonable, had you previously made the person justifiably dislike you?

2. Choose the wise response: a tactful follow-up, a blunt follow-up, or no-response. Usually, a brief tactful follow-up is wise. For example:

  • After the job interview, I was more interested in the position than ever, feeling I was a good fit and that I’d enjoy the work and working with you. You said you’d let me know within two weeks. It’s been three and I thought I’d follow up.
  • I was pleased that you agreed to help me get the project done by Monday. Well, it’s Tuesday. Can I expect that or have you gotten swamped with other things?

Sometimes, it’s wiser to be blunt. For example,

Per my previous performance review, you said you’d give me an accelerated review in six months and, contingent on continued good performance, give me a promotion and significant salary increase. At the seven-month mark, I emailed you and got no response. I must admit I’m disappointed and contemplating my next steps. I look forward to a clear response at your earliest convenience.

3. Move on. Having taken considered action, it’s usually wise to not additionally mull, let alone fume about it, but rather to distract yourself by—at the first moment you find yourself revisiting the issue—forcing yourself to redirect to a positive baby step on some other matter.

Straight talk to Ghosters

I’ll be unvarnished: Whether in your work or personal life, ghosting is beyond rude; it’s cruel. Respond, even if it’s just to respond with a one-liner such as, “I’m swamped. I’ll get back to you in a week." Otherwise, you need to face that you're not the good person you claim to be.

I read this aloud on YouTube.