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Why Is It So Hard to Say No?

By Natasha Hatherall-Shawe

In 10 years of running my own business one of the things that has shocked me the most is how frequently I will spend days, even weeks sometimes, on a proposal for a potential new client, only to send it over and never hear from them again. I follow up and I follow up a second time only to hear crickets and then I archive and move on.

It used to really upset me in the early days. It went against every bit of professionalism I’d ever been taught, and it didn’t make sense to me at all. How rude!

Often, I didn’t even care if they turned me down. I just wanted the decency of a response. And of course, I’d never for a second want to look desperate.

As the years have gone by, I still think it’s rude, but I’ve got a thicker skin and I’ve accepted it’s part and parcel of doing business these days. I now screen emails to work out the serious from the time-wasters and I generally give a lot less in my proposals until I know someone means business.

When you’re starting out though it can hit hard as you’re still working to build your confidence and your stride. It can leave you feeling confused and rejected. You’re wondering where you went wrong, if it was something you said, or well just feeling in limbo.

It’s not just you though. This happens all the time and in so many ways across the workplace – recruitment, pitching and networking.

So, why is it so hard to say no ‘thank you’ to someone who has spent time and energy on your business and why is GHOSTING in business so commonplace these days?

People will choose to ghost for a number of reasons, but most often it’s to avoid conflict or an awkward conversation. In some cases, it may stem from simple carelessness, neglect and forgetting to reply. Whatever the cause, it ultimately comes down to people wanting to avoid unpleasant situations, choosing to only focus on the good and abandon any interactions that make them feel even a little uncomfortable.

Ghosting doesn’t sit well with any of us. When something is left unresolved it lingers with us and it’s hard to let it rest until we get a resolution.

So, what can we do here? Apart from move on that is?

Face awkward head on – Instead of being haunted by something, face it head on and consider sending a brief, lighthearted message to leave the door wide open for them to reconnect, or simply to reply and let you know what is going on. This could be something like this: “Hey [Name] – hope you’re doing well! It’d be great to reconnect with you to discuss [x] further when you get a chance. Would chatting in the next couple of weeks work? If not, no hard feelings whatsoever; I’d greatly appreciate you letting me know either way.”Give it a few days and they may surprise you. Even if you don’t hear back, you may find it easier to move along.

Look at your approach – Consider how you played this situation. Was there anything in your approach that could have created this situation? Were you overly friendly? Did you ask too much? Ultimately someone you don’t know, or a mild acquaintance doesn’t owe you a response. But it’s always good to reflect and consider your own actions and what you’d do differently next time?

Was it you who ghosted someone perhaps? If so, it’s never too late to get back in touch and tackle it head on. Most of us have done it at one point or another. I know I have too, although very infrequently and never maliciously. Consider something like: “Hi [Name] — I’m so sorry to have left our last conversation hanging. I’m sure you’re busy with amazing new projects now. In any case, I wanted to apologize for dropping the ball on our communication, as I clearly did (the tough past year notwithstanding). And I’m also reaching out to see if you might still be interested in freelance work?”

Ghosting is a complex thing and as a practice sadly too common. Ultimately though it does cost time and money for businesses and so whilst you may not be able to eliminate it, I definitely recommend looking at your business ways of working and culture to reduce the potential for it as much as you can. I’ve done this by adding in screening processes and documented processes for all tasks, which has helped a lot.

And just remember, if you’ve been ghosted, whilst you may never know the exact reason why, it isn’t always intentional so definitely don’t dwell on it and let it define you in the future. We’re humans, we’re complex and sometimes we forget things too.


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