How to handle ghosting in the workplace

After an evening of witty banter, a nice bottle of vino and a catch-your-breath kiss goodnights, you thought you might have met someone special. So when you didn’t hear from them … ever again? The disappointment was fierce. Some call them magical unicorn first dates, while others use select profanity to describe the ordeal, but the not-so-technical term is often referred to as ghosting.

While popularized by dating culture, the same concept is common in the workplace setting. Whether it’s a consulting client who stopped responding to your emails or a possible employer who interviewed you three times and disappeared, it’s difficult to explain and approach this phenomenon.

As career and branding expert Wendi Weiner Esq., defines, “This is a situation where a person vanishes like a vapor out of nowhere. Generally, it’s where someone is engaged and speaking with you, and then one day, they are just gone.” Luckily, career experts shed their best advice for dealing with this spooky situation, all while maintaining your professional cool:

What to do when a client ghosts you:

You’ve put together the proposal, completed a few hours of work, turned in your first draft, you’re excited to receive feedback from a new client … and then … crickets. Considering there is a higher amount of freelancers in the American workforce than ever before, developing client relation skills is a new must-have for any portfolio. Weiner says it’s better to be proactive instead of reactive in this case by implementing deadlines, timelines and most of all — contracts that are signed before you roll up your sleeves.

If you didn’t plan ahead and you’re stuck with a non-responsive client who, um, owes you money? Career expert and founder and president of the Points Road Group, Alyssa Gelbard says to pick up the phone. Though it’s not a sure-fire way to warrant a response, it does show your dedication and could push them to move faster. If you haven’t actually started an official working relationship, but you’ve had phone calls and given them your figures, it’s appropriate to follow up once a week for up to three months before throwing in the towel.

Coworker ghosts on their part of a project.

Like most relationships, the one you share with your colleagues is among the trickiest. This can be especially true when you’re at the same level in your career and you are friends outside of the office. Even if you love their sense of humor and knack for picking great restaurants, they might not live up to the quality of work you aspire for. Weiner says coworkers dropping the ball is an all-too-common workplace concern. To avoid this, ask for clear guidelines, deadlines, and responsibilities from the get-go. If this didn’t happen or your manager isn’t one to assign specifics, it’s professional to pull your friend aside and ask them if there is something beyond regular avoidance going on. “Opening the lines of communication are most important in these situations at work, particularly when it is a coworker,” Weiner says.

If this isn’t effective or the issue persists, Gelbard recommends getting your boss — or their boss — involved: “Your colleague is supposed to conduct research, draft a document and do analysis — and suddenly flakes on deliverables and doesn’t respond when asked about their status. If it’s important and critical to what you’re doing, confront them — firmly, but politely — in person and if that’s not possible, call them. If they still haven’t responded, CC their boss to protect yourself from consequences (and possible reputation damage) of a late or incomplete project,” she explains.

Manager ghosts on feedback/request for raise/promotion.

Before you define this circumstance as ghosting, Weiner reminds professionals that it’s customary for a manager to take several days or even several weeks to provide feedback on this topic. Because they will often have to go through levels of approval, following-up right away might be taken as antsy. If it’s been more than a month, career coach Nancy Spivey says to set up an open, candid and strategic meeting your manager. How so? Turn the tables on them to prove how beneficial this move could be.

“Talk with your boss about how your contribution supports the organization’s goals and his or her role in achieving them. Provide solutions to initiatives and challenges of the organization. In other words, work to get your boss promoted and then your boss will have more incentive to get you promoted. Make it about how you help the organization and your boss succeed rather than just about your own agenda for a promotion,” she explains.

Employer ghosts after an interview/second round interview.

Though it might be too late now, Spivey says it’s always appropriate to ask for hiring timeline before you leave the office. This is a traditional question that outlines next steps and gives you a timeframe to work off of when you follow-up. Though you know by now to ‘thank’ your interviews via snail mail or email, when do you continue the conversation if you don’t hear from them? It all depends, Spivey explains. If they promised to ‘get back to you’ on Friday and it’s Monday, shoot off an email. Still don’t hear from them? Give it a few more days and try to calm your nerves. “Things happen all the time in organizations that delay hiring initiatives and it may have nothing at all to do with your candidacy for the role so don’t give up! Many employers appreciate persistence, just don’t stalk them,” she says.

As a last resort, Spivey recommends LinkedIn: “So many times it turns out that you will be connected by second or third level contacts, which can make people think twice about their overall professional reputation and image rather than just a current situation. This just might get you the response you were seeking.”