Have you ever sent an email to a work contact asking to reconnect, pitching a project idea, or requesting a referral, only to never hear back? You're not alone. Pretty much everyone has been work-ghosted at one point or another. But what do you do in this situation? Especially the ghost is someone you aren’t close with, it’s likely that you had an important or sensitive reason for reaching out, and getting ignored can trigger a lot of insecurities around your relationship. Your gut instinct might be to think they hate you and will never speak to you again.
The first thing you need to do in this situation is to avoid letting your imagination come up with worst case scenarios. The most likely explanation for ghosting is that the person didn’t see your email. Or saw it, meant to respond later, and forgot because it was marked as “read” in their inbox. This becomes more and more true as you reach out to contacts higher up the food chain. The number of emails department heads are getting each day is mind-numbing, so it’s no surprise that they miss emails frequently. And this gets even worse around the holidays or other busy times of year! You never know what’s going on, but be aware that if there’s a holiday or big industry conference coming up, it might not be the best time to email. Most importantly, don’t automatically assume they are ignoring you and write them off as a bad person. 99% of the time, the ghosting was unintentional.
If you haven’t heard back in a couple of weeks, follow up! Simply reply to the same chain and say that you’re checking in to see if they received the previous email and ask your question again. Most likely you’ll get an “I’m so sorry, I didn't see this email!” response pretty quickly. And you can continue the relationship from there. If you still don’t get an answer, this could be a red flag. If you’re trying to pitch a project or have a professional inquiry other than asking for a favor, you could try reaching out to a colleague of the person and explain the situation. They’ll probably be able to offer a reason that the other person couldn’t respond or get an answer for you. But it’s possible that the original contact doesn’t want to get back in touch. And if that’s the case, move on. There are plenty of other people to maintain relationships with.
One thing to note – none of this applies when it comes to job applications. It’s quite common not to hear back after you’ve applied for a role. Even when you’ve gone pretty far down the interview path. Is this right or fair? No. But it’s a reality we all have to deal with. You can always follow up with the recruiter or hiring manager every couple of weeks, but if you don’t hear anything, don’t take it personally. They were probably considering many other qualified candidates who all got ghosted as well.
The bottom line is: you have to give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t get too offended when you don’t hear back after sending an email. Instead, get comfortable with following up – a quick check in email is the best way to get an answer on something while maintaining the relationship.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan