The term ghosting appeared around 2006 to describe the act of ignoring or ceasing communication with an individual without explanation. While it first emerged in social interaction, by 2015 ghosting had become a common practice in the workplace.
In late 2016 we published a pilot study to gauge the impact of ghosting on business.
The findings indicated that ghosting was emerging as a potential barrier to the initiation and development of new professional collaborations.
This initiative expands on the earlier finding, and extends the hypothesis that ghosting interferes with and/or undermines collaborative and business development opportunities by skewing professional relationships to those that are already established. Specifically, we focused on the experiences of ghosting among professionals in Canada, and assessed their perceptions of the impact of ghosting upon their role, and upon the development of new collaborations and partnerships.
The authors designed a qualitative descriptive study consisting of confidential, individual semi-structured 30-minute interviews. An invitation to participate was distributed over two months (July – August, 2017) to selected individuals via the authors’ professional and business social networks. Individuals targeted were sent a message by the authors through an on-line professional social networking platform. Messaging was intentionally designed to be “non-advertising” in nature and offered an incentive in the form of pre-publication access to the findings. All participants targeted were mid-to-senior level management in the healthcare sector and were selected as follows:
Group A: A random sampling of the authors’ professional and business social network “contacts” not personally known by either author. This sample pool comprised 100 individuals.
Group B: A random sampling of the authors’ professional and business social network contacts, personally known through established past working relationships. This sample pool consisted of 30 individuals.
A clear demarcation in the response rate was observed between the two groups:
Group A: Only 1 individual out of 100 (1%) responded to the invitation in any way. There were no active refusals; messages were simply ignored de facto.
Group B: 30 (100%) individuals agreed to participate in the study.
This differential response rate confirmed our hypothesis that without an established professional relationship, the probability of being ghosted is extremely high.
Thirty-one (N:31) interviews were completed. Interviews were conducted by phone and interviewees were asked to discuss (1) if they had actively ghosted others and/or had been ghosted by a potential or existing partner/client and/or collaborator, and how they knew this had occurred; (2) how they believed being ghosted may have impacted their professional or organizational goals (3) any recommendations as to how should communiqués be designed to avoid being ghosted. Themes that were substantive and common were drawn from the interviews and detailed below.
All respondents admitted having been ghosted when trying to communicate with externals, and all acknowledged actively ghosting others. Interestingly, their personal experiences legitimized and validated ghosting others because “it’s the new norm”, rather than create empathy for the individual being ghosted.
Participants reported five key factors that drive the new norm of ghosting:
- All respondents highlighted the overwhelming volume of their current work and number of unsolicited contacts as the major reason for ghosting in professional settings.
- Respondents expressed an inherent degree of suspicion of any communiqué via professional social media platforms because these communications are perceived by default to be promotional and/or hawking.
- Even if there is a personal referral made in the communiqué (“I was referred to you by ABC”), many still stated that they would ghost the sender’s communications.
- Respondents acknowledged that ghosting restricts opportunities to engage, communicate and collaborate with new partners or clients, and thereby skews the pool of collaborations to already established relationships.
- A majority of respondents expressed discomfort with communicating to someone that they were disinterested, opting instead to actively ghost.
Recommendations from participants to reduce ghosting included:
- Communications must be comprehensive but succinct and direct, and address an immediate challenge they are facing at that moment.
- Thoroughly researching the person and organization being contacted is vital to understanding their current challenges and potential needs. Customized messaging reflecting this understanding is more effective than generic “blasts”.
- Multiple access approaches are advisable (social networks, email, phone, etc.), as people have individual preferences in communication platforms.
The study has a number of limitations that while not undermining the themes identified should be considered. First the sampling is not random and thus reflects a bias to the authors’ professional networks. Second, the approach utilized via professional network messaging may not have been compelling and/or effective, and future investigations should vary this approach. Third, repeated messaging could potentially stimulate a higher response rate among Group “A” participants.
Nevertheless, the findings do demonstrate a clear trend impacting the development of new collaborations. While the communications landscape has shifted monumentally to technologically driven exchange formats, the effectiveness and efficiency of these exchanges to initiate new professional relationships appears exceedingly limited. Even leveraging existing relationships in these exchanges in order to initiate new relationships may not be as effective as it once was. As such, there is a potential risk for the development of new collaborations that could in turn undermine innovation and creativity. Developing methods to address this new norm of ghosting remains a huge challenge that should be addressed through further research.
Author biographies and contact information:
Dr. Courmanopoulos obtained his psychological training at McGill, Capella and California State Universities. His career spans more than forty years in clinical, corporate, and entrepreneurial roles at leading global organizations including the Douglas Hospital, E. Merck, Beiersdorf, and Hill-Rom. In 1994 he joined Medius
International Inc. where he is presently the Senior Partner and CEO.
MCG – Medius Consulting Group
Since its establishment in the early 1970’s, MCG has helped guide successful global companies through some of the most challenging competitive times. At the heart of the company is leveraging Psychology in the key areas of Intelligence, Strategy, and People to access and leverage competitive advantage for its clients.
Dr. Hayes is a Clinical Psychologist and Organizational Behaviour Strategist with 25+ years of consulting experience in the Healthcare & Pharmaceutical, Higher Education, Information Technology, Multimedia, Not-for-Profit, and Aerospace sectors.. He is the co-Founder of Cohaesio, a specialized consulting firm that offers robust assessment of issues and challenges related to significant change, and facilitates the development of executives, management, and teams to optimize strategic and operational transformation. He is a graduate of the U of T, UBC, and Pepperdine University where he obtained his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
 The Biggest Barrier to Innovation is in Your Inbox. http://mediusinternational.com/main/index.php/2016/10/22/2330/