As an uninformed millennial, I only recently learned what “ghosting” means. A term that has gained popularity in recent years, ghosting refers to a person’s withdrawal from a relationship for no apparent reason, with very little to no communication. A vanishing act of sorts, where that person may re-emerge from time to time on a whim, often through more impersonal avenues like text or email.
Technology has certainly provided us with the means to build solid relationships with our in-house teams and key stakeholders, but it can also very easily be used as a buffer if a colleague or subordinate chooses. Days without a phone call, a response to an email or dead air on a project management interface are common where relationships are contained to emails, data rooms or other technological tools—a professional ghosting of sorts.
While relationships with our teams are supported by the multitude of databases and programs available to us, interface alone potentially invites avoidance and disconnection, making it difficult to develop team cohesiveness. We fall short when we consider technology as our reality, instead of simply an operational tool.
Although technology has given us many resources to build functioning teams, organizational processes and efficiencies, it is simply one category of tools among many when considering strategies for team management and team building (even for those relationships where face time isn’t possible).
Those very same technological mediums that enable ghosting may be used to build stakeholder relations when combined with a relationship strategy that moves beyond systems and interfaces.
Starting the conversation
I recently made the mistake of looking at past emails I had written to our in-house team as junior counsel. Fresh out of my bar ceremony robes, I responded to questions about legal risk with all the seriousness of a pressing constitutional question. Long (embarrassingly long) emails explaining case law and its practical application to simple operational questions could have been brief, practical messages—or, better yet, a practical answer delivered verbally through a simple conversation.
As in-house counsel, we have the responsibility of assessing the legal risks in our organizations’ operations and day-to-day circumstances. Some of our value therefore comes from our stakeholder relationships and our perceived reliability on which their professional trust is built; and the helpful, pragmatic nature of our answers to operational questions. We cannot be seen as ghosts or robots.
While technology can be used to achieve both objectives, it isn’t the only tool that allows you to do so. In fact, the value of combining technology with old-fashioned conversation meets both objectives better. For instance, verbal conversations can be followed up with an email or a group interface message. By using multiple tools of response, you demonstrate that you are ever present for your business units, enhancing your perceived reliability and trust.
Professional ghosting for in-house counsel often happens (inadvertently or otherwise) when we get wrapped up in legal research, need time to respond or feel too busy to provide even a simple follow-up email, leading to miscommunication or misinterpretation.
Combining technology with the tools of relational conversation accomplishes three goals: (1) it builds strong relationships with our stakeholders; (2) it prompts a two-way conversation, allowing for follow-up questions and answers without the frustrations of going back and forth through email or instant messaging; and (3) it avoids the perception of professional ghosting. In short, it strengthens connections and collaborations within the organization.
Maximizing face time
Sending an email used to be my preferred method of communication. I relied on it so heavily that it became like a security blanket—a quick, convenient method to get my message across. Indeed, when caught up in the day-to-day bustle of work, the convenience of technology can overshadow the importance of cultivated relationships built on conversation, face time and comfortable rapport.
Particularly for organizations working in national and international markets, it becomes increasingly difficult for team members to meet in person. Face time with local stakeholders can be hard enough to secure; adding geographical distance only increases the difficulty. Instant messaging and emails become increasingly tempting tools to avoid this inconvenience.
However, in this context, professional ghosting can flourish with the increased opportunities for dead air. So how do we approach cohesion when geography is our hurdle?
Use technology to build a face-to-face relationship. Zoom, for example, is an interface I use for video conferencing with team members in various offices or geographical locations. Actual or virtual face time encourages accountability and can be very helpful to build team rapport and create cross functional visibility.
Video conference calls may also be preferable to audio calls, as the latter has the potential for situational ghosting, for example, when participants surf the internet or multitask online during calls because no one is watching. Face time encourages the intention of being present during professional conversations.
Managing virtual relationships
With the rise of flex hours, remote working, and cross-Canadian and international operational teams, despite your best intentions and efforts, it can be challenging to effectively manage team reporting, accountability and cohesiveness.
Checking in on group management systems, such as Slack, are certainly efficient and valuable in circumstances where your schedule is limited. Shared databases are also useful for sharing ideas, uploading files, communicating updates and requesting action items. However, relying solely on technological mediums to manage creates one-dimensional relationships, with minimal opportunity to discover your team’s real strengths and weaknesses.
In-person updates, virtual face time, one-on-ones and conversations build rapport, reinforce accountability and create cohesion to your managing relationships. They add the right balance of human touch and tech.
The knowledge created through conversation and face time also allows you to discover team dynamics and clashes that are not apparent in written updates. Such human connection should not be lost as we implement smarter technologies.
We all know falling victim to professional ghosting is not pleasant. It leads to doubts about the reliability, effectiveness and overall cohesion of our relationships. Particularly in the context of relationship building and management, we fall short when we don’t consider fostering dimension to our connections with our teams and key stakeholders.
While technology constantly evolves to support operational efficiencies, consider evolving and developing stakeholder relationships based on rapport and relational comfort concurrently, using multiple methods of communication. We can’t avoid the continued accessibility of ghosting, but we can limit it by combining technology with human interaction.
This article was initially featured in the Winter 2019 issue of CCCA Magazine