26 September 2023

Exorcise ghosting with a culture of inclusion

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Whether the practice of ‘ghosting’ is a phenomenon of social media or represents a fundamental change in the way we treat others, Melissa Lamson* says it should be resisted.

How many times have you been to meetings that other people have called — and they don’t show up?

Or individuals commit to projects, partnering or funding and don’t follow through?

Even in recruiting scenarios, candidates and recruiters will sometimes disappear altogether, leaving the other side confused and upset.

I’m seeing this trend — disappearing altogether, or ‘ghosting’ as it’s called primarily in the dating world, without notice, apologies, or excuses.

If we are striving to practice inclusion in our organisations and committing to be a more inclusive leader, how do we reconcile this with ghosting each other?

I checked in with a few others about their experiences with being ghosted and several people said it happens all the time.

One person suggested it was because of social media: “People are used to ignoring each other and being ignored [or not ‘liked’], we’re immune to it now,” he said.

Someone else blamed it on Millennials: “They don’t know how to be professional and follow through.”

These responses are gravely concerning.

First of all, I don’t like blaming a group of people for a single behaviour (and my experience of ghosting isn’t just Millennials).

Second, I believe the world is too small to treat each other disrespectfully.

It’s not nice, nor is it good for our relationships with each other, our teams or organisations.

While some may not care about being ghosted, many do see it as a sign of bad behaviour.

When you don’t hear from someone it’s easy to make up all kinds of negative stories in your head — mostly around feeling dissed or excluded… the opposite of feeling included.

People are working long hours, around the clock, often in fast-paced environments, and some with limited resources.

They are using all kinds of technology channels like email, text or Asana and Slack to communicate and get deliverables done.

Everyone is busy with work and life.

Yet are we really busier than we were before?

Most people I know take some time off, they have time to watch the latest series out on Prime or Netflix.

They date, they make personal phone calls to family members and friends, and get to their doctor when they need to.

From what I see, everyone is app-ing, texting and emailing, even in their cars.

There does seem to be time to communicate with others.

Perhaps we are over-stimulated and inundated by so many things that we can’t possibly remember to do what we said we were going to do.

Or we can’t keep track of all the people or things we were supposed to respond to?

Maybe it’s because of technology’s ability to broaden our scope and reach.

It could also be that we are so used to being connected online that we underestimate each other’s feelings, how things come across, what people think about us.

It’s easier to disappear when we’re not voice-to-voice or face-to-face.

Messaging drops off, someone is active on social media and then not, snapchat shares an immediate moment and then it’s gone.

I wonder too (and truly hope not) whether ghosting is part of a pervasive change in culture.

Maybe it’s not just a few bad apples in our society; maybe it’s that we, as a society, truly don’t care anymore how our behaviour impacts others?

Maybe ghosting is just part of an overall culture trend?

Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive and what I’m deeming as ‘ghosting’ is actually the new norm.

Does it really matter if a few people fall out of one’s life? If we have five commitments and three disappear, we still have two.

Isn’t that good enough?

There are people I know who regularly ghost others digitally and then when they see that person face-to-face it’s like they’re greeting an old friend.

They are kind, genuine and full of promise.

Maybe ghosting just isn’t that big a deal?

Some of the most powerful diversity and inclusion programs address the concept of ‘micro-aggressions’.

That is, saying or doing something that often unintentionally slights someone else.

It could be talking only to specific people in a meeting, or interrupting someone while they are speaking.

These small actions can have a larger effect on workplace atmosphere and employee engagement.

If inclusion is about acknowledging, staying connected to, and ensuring others understand your motives, then ghosting is the opposite of that.

Ghosting erodes inclusion.

You can be the kindest person in the world but if you ghost someone, they may assume it’s an attack, or at the very least, a sign you don’t think very highly of them as another human being.

Sadly, we all know too well the extreme measures people take when they feel powerless, ignored and treated unfairly.

Imagine what we could achieve in our life and work if we eradicated ghosting, micro-aggressions, even violence, and truly adopted an intentional practice of inclusion.

*Melissa Lamson is a leadership expert and President and Chief Executive of Lamson Consulting. She can be contacted at @melissa_lamson1.

This article first appeared on the Lamson Consulting website.

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