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Ghosting – The Silent Sibling of Gaslighting

© Steve Whiteford 2021

If you are a ghost-er, therefore a ghost – unlike a Halloween ghost you’re probably not frightening at all. Like most ghosts people report having experienced, you’re just an annoying practitioner of “now you see me, now you don’t.” Ghosting is akin to Gaslighting because it’s a denial, a charade. And it rejects the worthiness of another human being and the impact of the exchange that may have happened between you.

 We give ourselves all kinds of excuses to justify ghosting someone. Busyness is number one, and attention deficit disorder is another. Most often it is a simple act of cowardice, a lack of consideration. Emotional Intelligence (EI) emphasizes the value of relationship and the salience of empathy. The act of ghosting ignores both. EI recommends we lean into discomfort, where ghosting takes the easy exit out.

 In some instances, ghosting is recommended as a self-protecting, appropriate end to negative relationships, but even those interpretations challenge character and integrity.

 In business, it is used very casually drawing on the excuses listed above. It is standard to ghost job candidates who didn’t get the job, and god forbid any notice is sent to the senders of resumes who didn’t make the cut. This is a stark denial of effort and worthiness, where any sincere though brief explanation might be very beneficially instructive for the applicant.

In the realm of business networking, we assume permission to ignore an attempted contact or silently terminate a communication volley without explanation if we determine the networker unworthy of our consideration. Self-importance disguised as busyness or justified by caste and superiority call the shot. We bypass the value and joy we may have given or received by extending a few seconds of thoughtful feedback or advice.

There is a thin grey line between Ghosting and Gaslighting. Sometimes we simply ignore conversations or events, don’t communicate about them, and leave others hanging while stuck with the responsibility of confronting us.

I once worked with a coaching client whose manager would occasionally cherry-pick parts of her job that involved exposure to senior managers and do them himself. During the time leading up to the event, he would cancel meetings with her and be too swamped to discuss why he usurped her opportunity. When she finally met with him, she would skillfully hold him accountable by calmly requesting that he let her do her job. He would Gaslight her by acting like he hadn’t done anything out of line, or claim he was protecting her in some obscure way, then cast her as too sensitive. Of course, she eventually left the job. Ghosting often creates ghosts.

Non-communication as an act of Ghosting is haunting. It leaves others to wonder and mull. When we intentionally cut people off without explanation, it may serve as a satisfying kind of revenge to know they are left to figure it out on their own.

Yes, it’s true. We are all busy. We do need to make clear choices about what deserves our time. But it’s also good to remember the benefits of kindness in scenarios in which we are apt to opt to dismiss them.

Here are some recommendations for avoiding Ghosting behaviors:

  • Briefly acknowledge the receipt of emails and phone calls from those you’ve reached out to and known contacts
  • Identify and address important information or questions in the communication. (Answering only the parts of an email Ignoring communication content or cherry-picking only what is important to you is ghosting the exchange.)
  • Follow up on offers or promises you have made, especially if you find you are unable to follow through on them.
  • Kindly and directly communicate boundaries or complete communications that you don’t wish to maintain. Provide helpful feedback. Don’t disregard the person.
  • Brave your vulnerability. Apologize, or admit that you’re overwhelmed and let them know you care.
  • Any of the points above cost only a few minutes, which under pressure or blinded by self-importance we’re apt not to take. Losing a relationship with associates or breaking a connection costs more down the line. Ghostly characters often end up haunting those they’ve ghosted in an attempt to make amends and assuage their regrets.

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