Networking

Disappearing Acts: What to Do When a Contact Goes Cold

business meeting

Amateurs don’t have the monopoly on ghosting – that unsettling and sudden absence of someone who seemed a vital part of your life until now. . You might be familiar with the syndrome in your personal life, but when it happens with a professional relationship, it comes as a rude surprise.

The promising contact has disappeared. Emails are unanswered, phone calls not returned, and a project, a contract, or a job has been left hanging in the balance. All the time and effort spent on winning this client or business associate over seems to have been in vain. How should you handle the situation?

Conduct a Mental Review

Don’t take the behavior personally. It is most likely that it has nothing to do with you. There could be numerous reasons that cooled the prospective contact on taking things to the next level.  Revisit the interactions mentally, as well as through records, to determine if there was an actual commitment or intention to remain engaged. In retrospect, maybe you will recognize more ambivalence in communications than you saw in the moment.

That does not mean that you were either misled or that your judgement is flawed. It is a lesson learned to carry forward in your career, about the quality of communication in business.  You may want to set certain parameters in the future, to help you assess the level of interest that someone is displaying in your services. For example, determine the number of conversations you can participate in before expecting perceptible signs of commitment, such as a contract or memorandum of understanding.

Be Proactive

If you remain convinced that the person’s interest was authentic, reach out to him or her, preferably face to face if you can manage that appropriately. Schedule a meeting with the person, don’t surprise them at their work or home. It is essential that you do not use this as an opportunity to vent, or even unwittingly trigger a feeling of guilt in the person who seems to have abandoned the business relationship. Even if you don’t move forward now, it is counter-productive to leave him or her associating you with a negative feeling. Maintain a professional demeanor, keeping in mind that your paths will continue to cross, regardless of the immediate outcome.

You may want to remind them of any unfinished business, such as a meeting or timelines that were agreed to. Chances are they will treat your overture as a friendly reminder and he or she may even volunteer the reason that they have been out of touch. They may reinforce their involvement and take tangible steps towards progress.

Take your cue from their tone. If they are still friendly, but detached, and your presence doesn’t spark a renewed surge of interest, suggest – don’t ask — that the two of you catch up in the future. Don’t assume that the relationship is back on track, in the absence of any firm plan of action. Consider the attempt as a chance to maintain the positive connection between you, which could live up to its potential in the future.

Exit Gracefully

If he or she does not respond to your attempt to meet, don’t continue to reach out, though at some point you might want to follow up with a phone call or note to maintain the connection.  You don’t know what might be happening in the background that has caused their attention to shift away, and some people have difficulty in being direct. Give him or her the benefit of the doubt and move on to the next thing.

Ghosting is unprofessional, and you should not take away from the experience that it is acceptable behavior in the workplace. Resolve to set higher standards for your own conduct in your professional life, especially now that you know what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

Next Time Will Be Different

You can’t control someone else’s behavior, but you can instill a few practices that you can use for reference, when you need to distinguish serious players from “window shoppers”. Set up a few guidelines to rely on to protect yourself from following fruitless leads and being treated disrespectfully in the future.

As much as possible, aim for regular face-to-face interactions with each of your contacts. Relying on technology, such as email and texts, can make it easier for someone to cut you off or avoid accountability.

When you establish a new contact in the future, conduct a few discreet inquiries about the person’s reputation for reliability and follow-through. Inside information could be invaluable in helping you to determine whether you should be patient, or cut your losses.

It can also be helpful to continually clarify what commitments are being made each step of the way, rather than hoping that things will evolve organically. For example, follow up each interaction with an email that documents what was discussed and next steps. As attorney and career coach Wendi Weiner said to Fast Company, contracts in writing are key in business relationships. “You want agreements and signatures as much as possible” she says.


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