Coping with professional ‘ghosting’.
This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Detective Jason Chase, aka Anonymous. They say:
“My question is about professional ‘ghosting’… spooky!
I was recently in touch with an old acquaintance who now works with a big organisation that I have been interested in working with for a while. This person encouraged me to pitch for quite a big contract, chatted through the project with me on the phone and even read through my ideas and made encouraging suggestions before I submitted.
But — I didn’t get the gig.
I was really gutted but assumed I was up against some tough competition. The acquaintance apologised, and told me that there would be further opportunities coming up really soon and also offered — unprompted — to give me some feedback on a call. Great, I thought!
But when I replied to schedule a time to chat I didn’t get a reply. A week or so later I sent a follow up message and again… silence!!
I think this professional ghosting is becoming more and more common and I hate it! How hard is it to send a quick message to someone, especially if you have volunteered to share the information in the first place?
I would love to move on from this, but feel a bit embarrassed, and also annoyed, and a bit like a ditched date! I’d love a chance to work with this organisation, and to have the feedback that was offered up. Would love to hear what you think! Any advice?”
• • • • •
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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:01:44] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.
[00:01:58] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each week we take a question… Well, I say each week. We’re doing it every other week at the moment. We take a question from the Doing It For The Kids Community and do our best to answer it. But we start each episode by looking back at the last episode. Now, last time we were talking about?
[00:02:12] – Frankie
Identifying what opportunities to run with and what to say no to.
[00:02:17] – Steve
Sabrina Russo got in touch.
“Such a timely episode. I have completely lost my instinct for what work opportunities I want, don’t want, can’t face, I’m too scared to pursue, too skint to turn down the pandemic… Loss of confidence is real. It’s reassuring to know it’s not just me.”
[00:02:36] – Frankie
And on a very similar tip, Penny Smyth says:
“I’ve lost all my spidey senses about what work to take on in the last year. If all else fails, I now resort to the following list — Is it going to be fun? Will I learn something useful? Will it earn me a shit tonne of cash? If none of these boxes are ticked, it goes on the shit pile.”
[00:02:55] – Steve
It’s a good list.
[00:02:57] – Frankie
[00:02:57] – Steve
And Rebecca Lismer says:
“It has to give you the fizzers. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the payoff isn’t great, if you are going to get a great bond with another freelancer, or learn something new, or try something fun, going with your gut is totally the only answer. As long as you factor in your time. Fizzers, everyone. Fizzers!”
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:07:09] – Steve
All right, so when we get an anonymous question, we like to give it a name, a personality. We do that by going to the Fantasy Name Generator website, clicking on detective names because they’re the most realistic.
So, this can be from Vince Eckhart? Hal Horn?
[00:07:38] – Frankie
No, we’ve had a Horn already.
[00:07:39] – Steve
Daryl Carter. Jason Chase.
[00:07:42] – Frankie
Yeah, I quite like Jason Chase. Flows.
[00:07:49] – Steve
So this week’s question comes from Detective Jason Chase.
Jason’s been in touch and says:
“My question is about professional ghosting.”
“I was recently in touch with an old acquaintance who now works with a big organisation that I have been interested in working with for a while. This person encouraged me to pitch for quite a big contract, chatted through the project with me on the phone and even read through my ideas and made encouraging suggestions before I submitted.
But I didn’t get the gig. I was really gutted. But assumed I was up against some tough competition. The acquaintance apologised and told me that there would be further opportunities coming up really soon and also offered, unprompted, to give me some feedback on a call.
Great, I thought.
But when I replied to schedule a time to chat, I didn’t get a reply. A week or so later, I sent a followup message and again, silence. I think this professional ghosting is becoming more and more common and I hate it. How hard is it to send a quick message to someone, especially if you have volunteered to share the information in the first place?
I would love to move on from this, but feel a bit embarrassed and also annoyed and a bit like a ditched date. I’d love a chance to work with this organisation and to have the feedback that was offered up. We’d love to hear what you think.
Any advice? Jason.”
[00:09:16] – Frankie
I have a lot of feelings around this. I have a lot of feelings around this because I think it’s complicated by the fact that I’ve definitely ghosted people in my own life!
[00:09:26] – Steve
That actually made me spit out my coffee back into my mug. What??
[00:09:31] – Frankie
Okay. I think one of the things I want to say is, like… context is key in this instance. Well, this instance is interesting because they did get a response about the pitch, which was a no. Because in some ghosting, professional ghosting, you literally pitch for a job or you go for a job interview or whatever and nobody ever contacts you again. That is fucked up. Like, that’s not okay in any circumstance!
This one’s interesting because they offered to give that feedback to Jason about the pitch they didn’t get and then didn’t deliver it. And yeah, that’s frustrating, but it’s at least they’ve had the courtesy to, like, tell you didn’t get the job. I guess my point is there are levels of shittiness associated with ghosting. Like, if somebody had offered to give you help with something or offered to write something for your blog for free or had offered to do something that was more like giving you a helping hand and then didn’t deliver, that’s very different to asking you to pitch for a job or there’s different context around it.
[00:10:30] – Steve
And I think there’s a difference as well, where… Maybe somebody has emailed you, right? And then you haven’t replied. That isn’t ghosting. That’s just not getting around to reply to an email. Ghosting is more where you’ve gone back and forth for awhile.
[00:10:47] – Frankie
[00:10:48] – Steve
Then you’ve just suddenly gone silent.
[00:10:49] – Frankie
Yeah, I’ve done that. I’m not going to lie.
Okay, so in Jason’s context… He’s chased, right? He’s chased and chased again, by the sounds of it, and got nothing.
[00:10:59] – Steve
And might I add, I think Jason — by the sounds of it — chased at the right pace. Because I think that’s important. Like, you need to leave it a week or two, maybe two. Because I get this, like, people who write “just putting this back into your inbox” and then like, two days later, “hey, did you see this thing?” It makes you less inclined to reply when somebody keeps hounding you by email.
[00:11:23] – Frankie
Yeah, I think giving them space is good. I think they’re more likely to respond if you give them a decent amount of time to do whatever they got to do in their life to get back to you. But also, I don’t get the impression Jason chased them beyond email. Like, did he try and phone? Does he have a phone number for them? Sometimes if you really want to know what the thing is, it’s worth hassling them in a different medium, in a different way.
[00:11:48] – Steve
It’s so awkward though, isn’t it? Because what if your communication is always via email and suddenly you phone up? I don’t know. I think that would make me feel quite awkward. Yeah, but you’re right. If you want to get through to someone, then changing the technique.
[00:12:04] – Frankie
If you were chasing an invoice, right? Email — nobody responds. Then eventually, you’ve got to pick up the phone.
[00:12:10] – Steve
Yeah, but we should avoid the invoicing scenario because that is not ghosting, that’s just somebody being a wanker, not replying. Right?
[00:12:18] – Frankie
Yeah. I’m not saying that is a form of ghosting. I’m saying if you want something enough, you will change tack to get hold of that person and get that information. But then I guess part of that is trying to assess how much you do give a shit. Like, at what point do you just need to accept and give up? Like, where’s the line between being persistent, you know… Pushing that person to deliver what they said they were going to deliver, wasting energy, your end to get it done.
[00:12:48] – Steve
Yeah, I think when you think you’ve reached the end, as in, like, you’ve sent enough emails and so on and so forth, when you feel like you’ve been ghosted, I think that’s when you then send one final email saying, “this is my ultimatum”. Well, it’s more like, “I realise you must be busy. I’ve not heard back from you, even though you said you would. But I’m just trying one more time, but I won’t bother you about this any further and hopefully we get to work again in the future”. But that might be enough to guilt trip them into going, “oh, shit, yes, I meant to apply and I didn’t!” So that one final nudge before you give up.
[00:13:29] – Frankie
Yeah. And I think how you word that and the tone of that is quite important because it can be quite easy to get pissed off and impatient and angry about it. But I think they’re less likely to get back to you if you give that impression.
And actually, it might be painful for you to do that, but to be more like… “hey, just checking on the thing”. To even make a joke or sending, I don’t know, a stupid video or something? Or something that acknowledges that it’s awkward or acknowledges it won’t be happening.
If part of the reason they’re not responding is fear of having to face that conversation, if you then A, acknowledge that you’re aware that they might not do the thing. And B, you’re making it into, like, something positive and a bit silly, rather than like aggressive and angry. It might just encourage them to get back to you.
But then, having said all of that, you know… you steer into, like, victim blaming territory and really, they’re just being a dick for not getting back to you. And you’re entitled to feel angry and Jason’s entitled to feel embarrassed and annoyed and like, ‘he’s been ditched’ because he has!
[00:14:31] – Frankie
So I empathise with how he’s feeling. It’s not a nice feeling.
[00:14:36] – Steve
I do think sometimes you have to remember, and I’m conscious, like… We’re answering Jason’s letter and Jason’s got a very specific scenario, but ghosting can happen in many ways. So, this might be less relevant to Jason because it’s odd that the person said they will give feedback, they offered to do it. That’s what’s weird about this one.
But you have to remember that the other person is a human and we have no idea what they’re going through, both work wise and personal wise, particularly over the past year. Like, it’s not necessarily personal, totally, you shouldn’t take it personally. Yes, it’s a bad reflection on them, makes them look shit, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad person. It just means this has dropped down the list. Also, in certain circumstances — and I’m thinking of this one in particular now with Jason. Maybe they offer to give you feedback and then it turns out, actually, they’re not as high up and significant in this company as they like to pretend they are and they don’t have access to the feedback or they’re not allowed to give the feedback. Maybe it’s not their call, maybe they don’t have it, but they could have…
[00:15:45] – Frankie
…just said, I don’t have it?
[00:15:48] – Steve
Yeah, but they’ve obviously been really helpful and nice and part of that makes them feel good and impressive, like, “hey, look at me now. I’m working at this big organisation and I can help you out”. And actually, maybe, they’re not such a big fish or maybe they’ve had a falling out with their boss and they’re about to leave that company and they can’t. There’s just maybe more going on than meets the eye. This is such an odd scenario. I’m tempted to phone up on your behalf, Jason, and say, “why did you offer to give feedback and then not give feedback? You didn’t need to offer it. They didn’t expect it!”
[00:16:27] – Frankie
Yes. I think what you said about it’s easy to vilify people. In reality, we don’t really know what’s going on in their life. Right. I think that’s really important. Approach it with empathy rather than angry. That doesn’t rhyme…
But I also think beyond what’s happening in their life, there might be a million other reasons as to why they didn’t respond. Maybe, yeah, they’re a people-pleaser. And when they don’t have the answers and they can’t please you or make you happier, for whatever reason, or they don’t have the right within the company to give the feedback, et cetera. They therefore don’t know how to engage or how to respond because they don’t have a positive reaction to give you. Maybe they’re afraid of giving you the feedback and that’s really terrifying for them. In reality, they don’t really want to do that at all!
[00:17:11] – Steve
Like, maybe… Sorry, but it’s just hit me! What the hell happened?? Do you remember the point in Jason’s story when before Jason made the pitch, he ran ideas past this person and they gave feedback? Now, what if that impacted the pitch and the pitch got changed, then Jason applied for the job, and it turns out this person’s ideas…
[00:17:32] – Frankie
…that’s the reason they didn’t get it?
[00:17:33] – Steve
Yes! And they didn’t know that, so they’ve asked for feedback from the people who turned it down, found out it was their fault, and now they feel really awkward about giving you that feedback. It turns out it was THEM who lost you for a job.
Oh, my God. I feel like with an episode of Scooby Doo.
[00:17:51] – Frankie
Who needs Line of Duty, mate? This is it.
[00:17:55.810] – Steve
We figured it out, Jason. That’s exactly what it was. They fucked it up for you and now they feel bad about it because they didn’t realise.
Well, there we are. That’s the end of this episode.
But one thing’s for sure, and we’ve probably said this in a roundabout way, it’s not you.
[00:18:13] – Frankie
Yeah, right. Exactly.