Everyone from American actor and comedian Aziz Ansari to the New York Times has declared that ghosting (i.e. actively talking to someone and then suddenly stopping communication completely) is cruel but all too common.
The term ghosting is usually reserved for dating situations, but I tend to see it happen way more often in the business setting.
It happens to pretty much anyone who has made a new contact or even possibly built a long-term business relationship. You reached out. They never responded. No phone calls. No texts. No emails. Vanished without a trace. This person is never to be heard from again.
Getting ghosted is bad, but being the person behind the ghosting is even worse. Let’s talk specifically about business email communication.
Now it’s one thing to not open an email at all, it can be hard and sometimes impossible to open and answer everything that comes your way. But opening an email, responding to it and not saying anything afterwards, that’s just bad business etiquette and here’s why:
1. People will know you’ve opened an email.
More and more people are using email extensions that let them see if you have opened an email, many of which do not require the reader’s consent (and I thought read receipts were receipts anxiety inducing). This means the age -old excuse of “Oh! I didn’t see that email,” doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Not only can a person tell if you have read an email, but they can also see how many times you read it. So the chances that someone knows you are ignoring them has increased exponentially.
2. You are wasting everyone’s time.
According to Chris Milas, the founder of Leadsy.co, a software company that provides businesses with phone and email leads, it typically takes about 3-5 follow ups before people actually get back to you or take the next step.
Now imagine if we all didn’t have to send and read multiple emails to get stuff done. Wow, crazy concept right? It doesn’t take up much time to read and send emails. Why not increase everyone’s overall efficiency?
3. You can’t really afford to ghost people in business.
Whether you run a startup, work as a freelancer or work for a large company, people will remember the person who shut them out for no apparent reason. No matter how many clients you have or how much money you bring in, having negative feelings attached to your brand can really hurt you down the road. Giving someone bad news is hard, but a simple “no thank you” is almost always well received and won’t hurt future communication.
So, what can you do to make sure you do not partake in business ghosting?
The best ways to prevent accidently ghosting someone (because we know you would never do it on purpose) is to start with the obvious: respond to emails (or snooze them with tools like Inbox by Gmail, Streak for Gmail, SaneBox or other extensions so you don’t risk forgetting to respond in the future.
You may be listing off all the reasons in your head right now why that is not feasible or why you don’t need to reply to every single email. Another solution is quite simple: only check your email when you can actually take the time to respond. This not only ensures you respond to emails you’ve been meaning to answer, but it also cuts back on the time you spend revisiting emails.
One could “surmise that cognitive dissonance [i.e., when our beliefs do not match up with our behaviors] is what is also making ghosting more and more commonplace—the more we excuse the behavior, the more we can convince ourselves that it’s normal and acceptable.”
Truthfully, no one likes to be ghosted. Aim to show up more than you disappear.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Marlo Miller is a former public relations specialist who quit her 9-5 at an ad agency to pursue lofty entrepreneurial dreams. Together with her business partner, she founded a company that manufactures and distributes a hangover preventing supplement called Prime. She hasn’t looked back since.