Is ghosting in business now the standard response?

‘Ghosting’. It’s not new but it is more prevalent than ever before. So what is it? Well the Urban dictionary describes ghosting as:

‘The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested.’

I hardly need to explain that it’s not about not responding to spam or someone who is stalking you on Linkedin that you have never spent any time with. I am talking about those people you have spent time with, exchanged information, greetings, helped them with proposals etc. Those people. It’s been around in one form or another for a long time. Generally we used to call them ‘time wasters’ but ghosting is a little more callous and the term arrived for most of us when Tinder exploded onto the dating scene.

A little story to begin with

Here is a story I heard first hand from a friend last week. Girl meets boy online. She goes on three dates, they get along really well, she stops over at his flat for the weekend. All going really well. The following week he texts her to ask her if she wants to come over in the evening for dinner to which she replies ‘Sure, I will have a run, then come over after my shower and let you know what time I will be over’. She finishes, texts him and… hears nothing, no response to the text, no reply to several phones, nothing.

In fact, she never heard from him ever again. He had ghosted her.

Was he dead? Had he been killed in some sort of very unfortunate accident when she had gone for the run? The electric heater dropping into the bath ‘Get Carter’ style? In fact no, because she saw him in the street several months later. And his reaction? His face looked like a dropped pie, he turned around and literally ran away.

Here is a man that as the Germans say has a Backpfeifengesicht – a face badly in need of a fist. I am of an age that I just though this story was incredible. I just couldn’t believe anyone could be so weak. So, very, very weak and pathetic that they could not face telling someone else that it wasn’t working out – even by text. I shall use another quote (I’m going to use a lot of them)

“In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

But then I realized that this is happening all the time in every walk of life. I knew about it when I was in recruitment (a long time ago) so it has been going on for years before there was a good term for it. Candidates not turning up for interviews and then not turning up for the first day of a job. And it has always happened in business. A prospect sends in an Request for Pricing or a Request For Information, receives it, fires questions back, it goes back and forth, showing interest, asking for pricing, intimating or even stating that a sale is imminent and then – nothing. No response form the last email, no return of calls, no quick email to say ‘Look, sorry, things have changed and we won’t be going forward or it’s on hold or my boss had put the kibosh on it’.

The difference today is the scale of this phenomenon. Today ‘ghosting’ is pretty much now the default response in business to a proposal. Once the prospect has what they wanted, for whatever reason, or perhaps doesn’t want it anymore, they will cease communication and never respond to you ever again. This it would seem is the world we are living in today and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better.

So why should it be so annoying I everyone is doing it?

Well I can’t speak for everyone, of course but I will not hold anything back.

1) It shows a lack of good manners

I don’t care if you are busy. If you are so disorganised that you cannot spare less than one minute to let someone know where they stand, quite frankly you shouldn’t have a job or run a business.
If it is because you find rejecting someone uncomfortable, then you are weak and you need to get on an assertiveness course for your own personal development.
If it’s because you just don’t care and you won’t spare a thought for the other person, then you are a sociopath and you should be on a police list somewhere.

As the famous line from William Horman says ‘The manners do maketh the man. Nothing worse or more unbecoming than a man with poor manners.’ Or woman, he might have added.

2) Its going to cost us all a lot more money

In the log run this kind of behaviour is going to alienate people even further from one another. There will simply be no such thing as ‘good will’ and this is going to mean everything costs more.
I shall explain.

Obviously we are a software company but we have another business called Cavendish deVere. It’s a flooring company and not only is it very successful, it is also a very useful proving ground for the Flobot software. We eat our on lunch here you see. So, we provide estimates and quotes for the general public and businesses everyday. From the statistics provide by the software we know we win 1 in 5 quotes. That’s OK because we are expensive and exclusive and the ratio is right for that business.

But of the 4 out of 5 quotes we don’t win, 3 of those prospects never respond to emails or return phone calls ever again. That means those clients have found us, called us up, explained their requirements, provided their email and contact details, we have arranged an appointment, driven over to their property in the time they required, discussed their requirements face to face and then gone back and prepared a quote which we have sent across to them for approval.

Their response to the amount of effort we have made on their behalf – they have ghosted us.

Luckily we have some good software that make the quotes quick – no plug intended. But how do we feel about that? As a company and as individuals we have spent a lot of time and money, shared a lot of knowledge and experience and in return we have not got anything from it. Yes, that’s the nature of the business and we can live with that.

But for someone to actively avoid us after all this effort, to take what they wanted and have not even the smallest amount of courtesy to say thanks, to spend the smallest amount of time to reply to the emails, to just say ‘No thanks’, makes us feel well, used. And resentful.

‘So what?’ you might say. What are the consequences of that? Who cares?

Here is the way I see that playing out. Eventually no knowledge will be shared for free because there is nothing exchanged to facilitate it.
Let me explain why I believe this. Sometimes goodwill is enough to do something for a stranger for nothing. Even if it costs you something, when someone says ‘thanks’, ‘thanks for your time’, ‘thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience’, ‘thanks for your advice it has helped me out’ – you don’t need a payment to make that exchange worthwhile.
You might not have got any money out of it but it makes you feel worthwhile. You have helped someone and that in some small way you have achieved something. You feel OK. It may not have gone your way this time but that’s OK. Next time might be different.

But now we don’t get that. Instead we might feel ignored, used and resentful that they ever called. So what else is there but to ensure you get a Shekel for all this effort? You just become harder. And so now we have made it is harder to get a visit from us and in some cases we will charge the customer for a visit. And we are going to do more of that.

Eventually, I envisage that we won’t share our knowledge or give any advice for free, every exchange will be monetised. And we will not be the only company doing this.

3) In the long run its no good for the ghostee

‘What goes around comes around’ is the old saying and though it won’t happen on every occasion it will if you keep it up. You ghost someone in business and you have burned a bridge. Sure, if the company needs your business they will probably overlook it if you send an email next year telling them how busy you were and that you want to re-engage.

But if you do that to us at Cavendish deVere we will apply an ‘arrogance tax’ (we actually call it something a bit more offensive in the office but it still begins with an ‘a’) and we put 5% to 10% on the original quote. At Fresh Milk Software we don’t need you at all and we will drop you like a bad habit and simply won’t respond to you. Because the nature of that business means we need to work closely with you for several months. And thus you have been ‘weighed, measures and found wanting’ to paraphrase the quote from the book of Daniel. You are a cad and a bounder and we don’t want anything more to do with you much less spend time with you.

Ghosting whether it is in business, employment or dating makes the world a little but harder, a little bit sadder and we are all a little bit poorer – as if we didn;t already get along badly enough. But it isn’t going to go away either. So, in tomorrow’s article I will tell you what you can do about it. How to stop being ghosted in business.