The term ghosting appeared around 2006 to describe the phenomenon of ignoring or ceasing communication with an individual without explanation. It originally referred to experiences in dating. Jennice Vilhauer writing in Psychology Today, discusses its causes and effects in social circles.
By 2015 the phenomenon had found its way into the workplace. HR managers described employees walking away from work without notice or explanation. A 2016 study conducted by CV-Library showed that 8.9% of a 3000-person sample admitted to ghosting their employers. It’s a two-way street: 52.8% of the same group admitted to being ghosted at various stages of the recruitment process.
In 2016 we began to hear about ghosting in sales. Professional salespeople are pretty thick-skinned when it comes to rejection, and creative at finding ways to get prospects’ attention. This hinges on reaching people in the first place. In a recent Psychmentation study of vendors and customers, we discovered that responses to direct contact had dropped by 75% during the last two years. This includes responses to personal referrals and even referrals from a superior in their own organization!
Overwhelmingly the #1 & 2 reasons were the workload and the sheer volume of incoming communications. As one senior manager put it, “Sometimes, avoidance is the only way to keep from drowning”. During one interview, the participant glanced at her smartphone and said, “In the half-hour, we’ve been talking, there are 50 new emails in my inbox!”
Apart from the time and effort it now takes to reach people, there’s the larger issue of how innovations and solutions reach those who may need them most. Some marketers insist that “outbound” activities such as advertising and sales are yielding to “inbound” methods. Instead of actively selling, meaningful content distributed through social media draws prospects into the company’s online world. At least that’s the theory.
It’s unlikely that workload and/or messages will decrease any time soon. Study participants had some important recommendations for getting their attention: Mass mailings and email blasts are useless and just clog up the channels. If spam filters don’t catch them, they just make people mad! Researching the company and individual is critical to crafting a meaningful message aligned with their “burning issues”. The subject line is key to getting the reader to view the rest of the message. As one executive put it, “We were facing a major product recall and I had to handle media inquiries. I needed help. If I had seen a subject line that said, ‘Crisis management expertise’, I would have jumped on it!” Attention spans are short and minimalism is “in”. The focus of any message should always be on solving a problem and making the individual shine.
Our study confirms that we are moving past traditional customer relational models. Inbound marketing may be one solution. The personal approach is far from dead, although it may only be sustainable if sellers become outcome advocates rather than sellers of stuff. Messages should align with customers’ decision drivers and ultimate benefit in mind.
By Steve Courmanopoulos, Ph.D. (Psych)
Dr. Courmanopoulos is the Senior Partner and CEO of MCG – Medius International Inc, a global consulting firm providing expertise in three areas: Intelligence, Strategy, and Organizational Development. Click here for more information on the firm’s activities in Intelligence and Advanced Analytics.
 Vilhauer, J. (2015). This Is Why Ghosting Hurts So Much. Psychology Today, Nov. 27, 2015.
 CV-Library (2016). Into Thin Air: How Ghosting Has Moved Into the Workplace. Retrieved October 21, 2016 from: http://www.hrgrapevine.com/content/article/2016-02-23-into-thin-air-how-ghosting-has-moved-into-the-workplace
 Medius International Inc. (2016). Ghosting in the workplace. Private study.