"Thanks for a great date. I’d love to see you again. Are you free Friday?”
“Great meeting yesterday. Here’s my proposal based on our conversation. Look forward to hearing your thoughts!”
Sound familiar? Nearly everyone has encountered one, or both, of these exchanges at some point.
Ghosting — or a sudden disappearance with no reply and no explanation — has been on the rise for years, and shows no signs of waning. We do it in our personal lives, after a first (or several) dates, but it has seeped into our professional lives, as well. Even after multiple meetings and customized proposals and pitches, responsible professionals will just completely disappear, without the courtesy to simply say, "Thank you, but we’re not a fit," or, "The timing isn't great." Instead, they leave the other party to pursue them incessantly.
Technology is the easy scapegoat, and it certainly is at the root of the problem. Technology makes communication easier than ever, which collectively lowers our value of the individual interactions. It also overwhelms us with the volume of pings and messages nagging for a reply each day. So we mentally block and prioritize, and, inevitably, there are winners and losers in that hierarchy of exchange.
But technology does not excuse this bad behavior, and not holding ourselves accountable is a lose-lose approach. Here are two main reasons why we continue to ghost and what we can do about it:
1) We have a false sense of our networks.
We value numbers over the quality of connection, and think that just because someone is a Linkedin contact or a Facebook friend, that that relationship doesn't need to be nurtured. But relationships are not a “one and done” operation. The digital point of connection is merely the springboard for the actual meat of the relationship. We’ve all had someone fail to respond to our personal correspondence, but continue to “like” our posts on social media. It’s maddening, to say the least.
Research indicates that both close and loose ties are important in building a valuable network, but we forget that close connections and loose ties alike require ongoing effort to continue to deliver value. Relationships, just like everything else worth having, are hard work. And laziness — however appealing in the short-term — yields an equally disappointing outcome over time.
2) We want to be wanted.
In business and in pleasure, we like the feeling of being pursued. Someone might reach out 2, 3, or more times, and yet we still don’t take a moment to respond and give them clarity. The time it takes to say “no thank you” is far less than the time and mental energy spent processing the on-going requests and pursuit. And yet, we continue to let others chase us. It feels good to be wanted.
Social media does us no favors in this department. Likes and follows fuel our ego, and we wrongly think that relationships are one-directional or can be turned on and off when beneficial to us. But relationships are two-sided enterprises. Valuable intros, time spent mentoring or consulting, or merely showing up to an event or always responding to a note — the cumulative effect of these small acts matters in the life of a relationship, but when only one party consistently holds up their side of the bargain, an imbalance ensues.
Sure, there are moments of great hardship or times when we simply can’t rise to the occasion — but most of the time, it’s not an emergency that fuels the ghosting. We all know people who perpetually embrace the “I’m busy” excuse and disappear, but don’t hesitate to ask for what they need when it’s beneficial.
So what's the solution?
For years I mused that I wanted a life sponsor — someone to help bankroll all my creative pursuits. A patron of sorts. Then I realized I had many, albeit in a slightly different format. Entrepreneurs seek funding from venture capitalists (VCs), but everyday people have investors, too. In my new book,Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way to Happiness, I talk about the value of creating "life VCs" — people in whom you mutually invest, over time, to create reciprocal relationship returns. But rather than check writers, they are our strategic advisors and unofficial mentors. They’re the individuals who make time to share life lessons and dole out advice. They include us in their lives and make introductions — or just counsel us when we’re down.
This isn’t just everyday networking. Enlisting life VCs involves relationship building that goes far beyond a business card exchange or a Linkedin request. These relationships evolve and experience varying degrees of intimacy over time, but for them to really work, the investment must be mutual, even if each party fulfills a different function at different points in time. It is a feedback loop of value in which everyone benefits — but only if they continue to participate.
And fair warning: Life VCs aren’t always obvious. The intro that leads to your dream job or life partner could come from a connection you least expect, when you least expect it. Which makes ghosting dangerous and myopic.
So as you navigate an already complicated 2017, put an end to ghosting. If not out of courtesy for others, then out of a selfish desire to maximize the human capital in your life. You’re far richer than you think you are, but cashing in isn’t free.
Mid December with the holiday season on the horizon and having read too many pieces about social media addiction, I was ready for a break. Every time I reached for my phone, I had a Pavlovian instinct to click on the Instagram icon and that's when I knew it was time.