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How to deal with a workplace ghost

How to Deal With Workplace Ghosting

Ghosting has hit epidemic levels in the workplace, and chances are you’ve experienced it. You need your boss’s input before moving on with your project, but you’re getting no response to your emails. The colleague you’re supposed to be collaborating with seems to be ghosting you at every turn. Your customer gave you a deadline, but you can’t reach them for approvals.

Workplace ghosts. They’re real. And they’re scary.

We've all done it

It’s okay when it only happens once in a while. We all know what it’s like to be super busy and just trying to hold our heads above water. We all have times where our kids are sick, or we are sick or some kind of emergency pops up. But true workplace ghosts are different.

These are the people you can absolutely count on to ignore you – and they seem to completely dissipate just when you need them the most. Short of organizing a seance or hiring The Ghostbusters, what do you do?

4 Steps For Dealing With Workplace Ghosting

The best approach when you’re being ghosted at work that I’ve seen has four steps, (and there are subtle variations depending on whether your poltergeist is an internal customer, and external customer or your boss).

Begin by giving the person a full day to respond. (Anything sooner can make you look impatient). Then:

Step 1: First follow-up

Follow up with your workplace ghost using the same medium as you used the first time (email, phone, message, etc.). You want this message to be friendly, professional and respectful. It should have four components: Confirmation, timeline, collaboration and consequence. Here are a couple of examples:

Colleague/Internal customer

Hi Sam:
(Confirmation) Checking to see if you got my email yesterday. (Timeline) We have the <xyz> due in three days which means we need your <abc> by tomorrow. (Collaborate) Let me know if there is anything I can do to expedite things on my end (Consequence) so we don’t create a bottleneck for the production team.

You should, of course, use words you are most comfortable with, but it is important to include all of the components. The confirmation let’s the person know that you’ve already tried contacting them. Emails and phone messages can sometimes go sideways, and you want to give the them the benefit of the doubt. The timeline and consequence reinforces the sense of urgency. The offer to assist positions you as a positive team-player instead of an adversary. (If the person has a history of trying to dump their whole workload on people, feel free to skip this step).

External customer/Boss

Hi Sam:
(Confirmation) Checking to see if you got my email yesterday. (Timeline) You had mentioned that you needed <xyz> within the next three days, and in order to meet that we’ll need <abc> no later than noon on Wednesday. (Collaborate) Let me know if there is anything I can do to expedite things on my end (Consequence) so we don’t miss this opportunity.

Step 2: Second follow-up

This is now your third attempt to contact your workplace ghost. Follow up within a half-day, using a different medium. If, for example, your first follow up was by email, use the phone. If you are ghosted on this as well, the message needs to be brief, professional, respectful – and direct. This follow-up uses a confirmation-timeline-consequence format, but focuses on a question, and the action you will need to take.

For example:

Hi Sam:

Checking in with you one more time. I haven’t heard from you regarding the status of <abc>, which we need by noon tomorrow to complete <xyz>. Are we still on for this? If I haven’t heard from you by tomorrow morning, I’ll let the production team know so they can adjust their schedule.


If you’re dealing with a colleague or internal customer, and it’s a particularly critical issue, you may want to escalate things before it all falls apart. There’s no easy or fun way to do it, but this is the sort of thing bosses get paid for.

Dealing with a workplace ghost is a challenge, but the worst thing you can do is ignore their behaviour. The last thing you want is for someone else’s communication failures to reflect on your performance.

Having said all this, it is equally important that you are always professional, respectful and, as much as possible, understanding. Your ghosts may indeed be overwhelmed with their jobs, or be facing personal challenges you aren’t aware of.

What if it's me?

If you’ve read this far and started thinking, “Yikes, I might be the ghost he’s talking about,” there are some things you can do as well. The first is to recognize that ghosting in general is a really bad practice and, fairly or not, it can seriously damage your reputation as someone people can trust. It would be in your best interests to actively pursue ways to come back from the netherworld. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on some strategies you can try

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