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ghosting

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Ghosting, in a social context, is to cease communications without notification in some situation where it would be reasonable to expect further interaction -- at the very least, an explanation of why communications would be terminated. The term comes from the fact that the person doing the ghosting just seems to disappear.

Ghosting was first spoken of in connection with online dating. Since then, it has also been applied to friendships and job-related situations. Recruiters, for example, may have a series of communications with a promising candidate who suddenly stops responding to messages; new hires sometimes fail to show up for their first day of work or simply disappear part-way through it. Some analysts blame what they’re calling Millennial entitlement, meaning members of that generation don’t feel they are required to follow conventional rules of behavior.

According to other analysts, however, ghosting behavior stems from changes in the job market and the laws of supply and demand. There are more positions to be filled than there are candidates for them, so the candidates may get better offers at any stage of negotiations or may just change their minds, confident that they can find something they would rather do.

From another perspective, recruiters were once the ones doing the ghosting but the situation is now reversed. Susan Hosage, senior consultant and executive coach for OneSource HR Solutions, explained: "For years, candidates anxiously awaited responses from employers after meticulously preparing their resumes and cover letters, attending interviews and then—cricket sounds—nothing. Now, the tables have turned."

Ghosting has inspired a number of related terms. Forcing the offender to respond to communications, post-ghosting, is sometimes referred to as ghostbusting. Interacting on social media -- liking Facebook posts, for example – without resuming direct communication after ghosting someone is sometimes called haunting. Actually resuming communication with someone after you’ve ghosted them is sometimes referred as zombieing, as the “ghost” returns from the dead. In a human resources context, that might be when someone who failed to show up for their first day of work reapplies to the same company a few months later.

There’s also a term for the more responsible protocol for ending a relationship: If you nicely explain why you will not be continuing communications and terminate politely, it’s called Caspering. That behavior, which was long the standard, is named for “Casper, the Friendly Ghost,” the title character in a cartoon series of the last century.

This was last updated in August 2018

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