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.