Practicing Inclusion in a Culture of “Ghosting”

diversity inclusion ghosting leadership

Have you noticed that more and more people set up meetings — and then 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 and it makes me wonder…

If we are striving to practice inclusion in our organizations and committing to be a more inclusive leader, how do we reconcile today’s seemingly normal behavior of ghosting each other?

I checked in with a few others about their experiences with being ghosted and several people said, “Oh sure, 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.”

Another colleague who runs a powerful, exclusive network for professionals told me that members were dropping out of the network because they couldn’t trust others in the group anymore to do what they said they were going to do.

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

All of these responses are gravely concerning to me. First of all, I don’t like blaming a group of people for a single behavior (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 organizations. And the problem is that while some may not care about being ghosted, many do see it as a sign of bad behavior. 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.

Why is ghosting happening now?

Busy-ness was my first theory. 

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.

But 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. And 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.

stressed employee technology

Are we too distracted? 

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 connect when we said we were going to connect. Or we can’t keep track of all the people or things we were supposed to respond to? It’s getting away from us, maybe in part due to 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…

Has our culture changed?

I wonder too (and truly hope not) that with a pervasive culture in the US right now of “I’ll say and do what I want and I don’t care if it hurts another person”, if ghosting isn’t a part of that? 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 behavior 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. I mean does it really matter if a few people fall out of one’s life, does it? 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 of a deal?

greeting an old friend

Let’s talk about inclusion.

Some of the most powerful Diversity & Inclusion programs address the concept of “micro-aggressions”. That is, saying or doing something that often unintentionally slights someone else. It could be not acknowledging someone in a hallway, only talking to specific people in a meeting, or interrupting someone while they are speaking. These small actions can have a larger affect on workplace atmosphere and employee engagement.

I remember one of my first projects in D&I was at a university in Massachusetts. There was quite a bit of frustration and anger leading to violence between various racial groups on campus. After assessing the situation, it boiled down to people feeling a lack of acknowledgement leading to hurt feelings, which led to anger. We initiated a “Just say ‘Hi’” campaign across campus. Students wore t-shirts, hats and buttons showing their support for the campaign and people who didn’t know each other started saying “Hi” to each other. It turned around the whole situation and violence on campus was eradicated.

Sometimes practicing inclusion is as simple as acknowledgement.

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.

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

But 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.

What would that world look like?

Contact Melissa if you’d like to discuss developing a customized strategy for inclusion in your organization.

Welcome to Your New Managerial Position

new manager figuring out management

When The New Year Brings New Responsibilities

You have been consistently climbing the hierarchy at your job, demonstrating your technical proficiency and distinguishing yourself as a rising star. Once that rising star ascends into the management constellation, what should you expect?

According to the latest Gallup Poll, 60% of employees would trade a raise not to work with their manager anymore. And 70% of employees are still disengaged or actively disengaged. Management and leadership skills are key to turning around productivity and motivation.

So all of those hours coding, executing assignments, and producing whatever deliverables were asked of you have paid off; you are a “high potential” and now you get to run the whole show. What will you do to motivate and inspire your team? It is time to draft a plan and mobilize your resources. As you prepare to lead, consider:

Administrative Tasks Will Demand Your Time

There will be the new component of increased administrative work, such as status reports, human resources forms, and audit compliance tasks. These tasks will always be part of your job description. Now that it is here, know that this administrative work is a necessary part of keeping the gears moving within your organization. (And now you know that someone was doing it on your behalf all those years before now.) Viewing it as a task to go ahead and check off early in the day when your energy is high is a more potentially successful and satisfying strategy than squeezing it in when all you want to do is call it a day.

In addition, as someone freshly arrived to the administrative component of your new position, you may unearth obstacles to efficiency or opportunities for consolidation of outmoded processes that others have stopped “seeing.” Share your feedback with your leadership; yours may be the prompt they need to reassess some time wasters.

People Management Demands Will Multiply

When the names in the boxes on the organizational chart turn into real live people depending on you for guidance, evaluation, and direction, you have found the heart of the difference between your previous position and your new one. Now that you are managing, the demands for you to relate are many. Deborah Ancona, Thomas W. Malone, Wanda Orlikowski, and Peter M. Senge say the following about relating: “Traditional images of leadership didn’t assign much value to relating. Times have changed…and in this era of networks, being able to build trusting relationships is a requirement of effective leadership.” The number one piece of advice to heed when it comes to people management is: do not allow situations to fester in airless darkness. Be direct, be proactive, value the fact that relating brings with it as big a return on investment as many of your tangible business efforts will.

You Are Not Sure You Will Ever Get To Do What You Love Again

You don’t have to let the requirements of all that administrative work and people management completely displace your connection to the work you love that got you to this place. Paul Glen recommends allowing “indulgences,” meaning you should allow yourself to continue to dabble in the topic that propelled you up the leadership ladder. He continues, “New managers need the opportunity to occasionally dabble in their former work. Let them code just a little” and “revisit the glory days.”

Everyone Wants Something From You

Being in a position of leadership puts you squarely in the middle of various sets of expectations: your employer, your employees, your vendors. You may feel like an impostor, with a spiffy new title on the outside and the same old practitioner mindset on the inside.

Your former peer now wants a day off when you need him or her to be heading up a new initiative. A subordinate is upset that the revised office floor plan results in less window space. There are rumbles of dissatisfaction from various corners of the building about matters from the trivial to the serious. You may be feeling “this is not what I signed up for.” When encountering issues based on people’s needs, address them while they are small. It is natural for some first-time managers, especially if they do not have formal management training, to think “it will sort itself out” or “it’s not that big a deal.”

There is a component of management that is not delineated in black and white on the strategic plan: the discipline of building connectedness. As Kouzes and Posner say in Encouraging the Heart, “We need to feel connected to others and, in turn, they to us, because greatness is never achieved all by ourselves alone.” Fostering connectedness is as critical as bringing in a new client, writing the perfect program, or staying within budget. If nurturing connectedness makes you anxious, engage a mentor who can help you figure it out.

Remember Who You Are

Despite the additional administrative work, the challenges of managing people, and the distance from being able to practice your skill set, you still owe it to yourself to keep the spark of your individual assets alive. It is easy to get subsumed by the cascade of competing demands. Be deliberate about remaining true to the professional and personal identity you are carving out for yourself.

How Will January 2020 Look?

Ask yourself what you want the people you are now managing to feel about their first “year in review” as your employee. There’s every reason to believe they can feel inspired, motivated, and engaged rather than demoralized, deflated, and disconnected.