Have you ever received a text or an invitation and simply not responded? Has an acquaintance sent you a lunch date request, but you’ve just let it slide? Have you ever offered to do something but gotten busy and let it go, or even stayed silent, hoping they’d forget about it, but then had them ping you? Be honest. I’m not here to judge. Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of this situation. Did you ever interview for a position and hear absolutely nothing back? Presented a proposal and never heard another word? Gone on a first date with the promise of a follow-up only to never hear from them again? Have you proposed a lunch date, but the recipient never replied? Society has coined a word for this – ghosting. And, sadly, ghosting has inched its way into the socially acceptable realm of our collective psyche. I’m here to tell you, though, ghosting is a no-go. There are real costs associated with failing to close the loop. The costs come in the form of damaged relationships, nagging guilt and, well, weak communication skills. It’s time to put an end to ghosting.
At its core, ghosting burns bridges. The term “burning bridges” comes from the military. Derived from the act of physically burning down a bridge to eliminate a path of retreat, it conceptualized committing to a direct course of action and eliminating a way of going back or retreating. In modern times, the phrase has evolved to a concept of alienating ourselves from former friends and colleagues.
Wiktionary offers this definition: “To destroy one’s path, connections, reputation, opportunities, etc., particularly intentionally.” Now, there are times when burning a bridge makes sense, and you can find all sorts of discussion out there on this topic, but this is not what I am discussing today. I’m talking about not taking the time, or spending the energy, to close the loop with someone who warrants a response, thereby leaving the relationship dynamic unfinished and hanging.
The Nagging Guilt Is a Real Thing
I recently read a great article on ghosting in Real Simple. It featured a quote by Alexandra Solomon, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, that illustrates the feeling we get when fail to close the loop with someone. She explains, “Unfinished tasks are distracting and upsetting and act as a pebble in our shoe.” I’m betting each of us can think of a personal example here, especially with the holiday season in full swing. We’re uncomfortable, or pressed for time, and we let the opportunity to reply pass. Then, the nagging little thoughts of guilt percolate up, in effect putting a weight on our consciousness. Too much weight is going to slow us down. It whittles away at our positivity. Worse, even if we can suppress the feeling, we may bump back into the person online, or eeeek!, in person, and, then, talk about drag. Had we closed the loop, our conscious would be clear and we would have kept the door open for a positive, potentially lucrative encounter.
Build Some Communication Muscles
I call it “weak communication skills” for a reason. Far too often, we are taking the path of least resistance in our social interactions. When we draw up the courage to provide constructive criticism, less-than-desirable feedback or unpopular answers to someone, we’re building our confidence and our communications skillset. It’s “practice makes perfect.” More often than not, you’ll receive positive feedback back. Even if it doesn’t go as well as you had hoped, you have done so much for the person by providing a response, and you will have learned from the exchange.
Communication skills are what distinguish a good friend/manager/client/service provider from a bad one. The tried-and-true advice of sharing a positive with the negative remains as relevant today as ever. Examples include:
- “Your skills of xxxx are impressive, but we’re not a complete match for the position.”
- “I would love to be able join you in celebrating Sally’s birthday, but I have a conflict that evening.”
- “I would love to connect over lunch. It has been too long! But, I’m not able to commit to a time right now.”
- “Your proposal is strong, and we love that you included xxxxx, but our best fit for this project is with another agency.”
Modern Technology Serves Up Opportunities for Ghosting
Social media tools have set us up for ghosting. Have you ever received a quasi-canned LinkedIn message offering congratulations for a work anniversary you didn’t know you were having? How about Facebook messenger – those can pop up and surprise you. Ever been included on a 30-person evite to an event? Just the format alone sets the stage for a less-than-personal interaction. Many evites clearly display to everyone who hasn’t taken the time to reply. It takes just a few minutes to provide a response, and doing so goes a long way. LinkedIn even has a quick “thank you” button reply so you can quickly acknowledge the sender.
Close The Loop Already
So, in a nutshell, my advice is, close the loop already! Take the time to answer and follow-up. Grow your courage and hone your skills of tactfully turning someone down or sharing an otherwise unpopular response. Stretch and grow those communication skills by getting comfortable having an uncomfortable conversation, or any conversation at all for that matter. Ghosting is going to cost you in the long run, the reply is worth it.
Could your communication skills use a boost? Would you benefit from greater self-awareness you can use to build relationships that thrive professionally and personally? Kathy Walter has been helping teams and individuals become their best through individual coaching, team development and assessments like the EQ-I 2.0 and EQ360. Contact Brain Basics to learn more.