Updated: Sep 6
Halloween is around the corner and, in light of it, I thought to write about some scary behaviour I heard about or encountered at work and within relationships. I narrowed it to three dynamics: ghosting, gaslighting and groupthink. Let's start with ghosting.
Ghosting is a term typically used in dating circles; however, it's now used in other contexts as well, like work. For those not familiar with the term it means "the act or practice of abruptly cutting off all contact with someone...usually without explanation by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc." (Merriam-Webster). Ghosting has been around for some time, think of the stories where a partner left to get some milk or bread and never came back. It seems quite common nowadays, however, I believe a part of the reason for that is the rise of online dating and dating apps.
Why is this? If there are many choices to choose from the dating pool, then it can be a way to avoid an uncomfortable conversation (even through text) without really feeling the consequences. Decision fatigue and dating burn-out are real things and the ghoster may be protecting their time and energy by not responding as well. Whatever the dating or relationship situation, I generally find it disturbing behaviour.
I believe ghosting is more of a reflection on the ghoster than the ghostee or person being ghosted. Within the dating context, do you really want to be with someone who would treat you that way? It can definitely elicit feelings of abandonment or rejection and it can be quite unpleasant, however, if you can work through those feelings and move past them, I believe you are better off for it.
What about at work? Ghosting is more commonplace now with remote work and digital communication, however, it happened before too. You email someone for some information, and they never get back to you. This happened to my husband often enough. Granted, he works with financial data and reports, something a lot of people are not eager to bite their teeth into, but it still doesn't feel great when the person does not respond and there's a deadline.
Ghosting happens within the interview process as well. You could have multiple interviews at a company and then they never follow up or get back to you. I won't add sending applications here and not hearing back because, although that sucks as well, there's typically no engagement for it to be a ghosting situation.
What about if someone does engage or respond, however, they deny what they said before or deflects from the issue at hand? If so, you may have been gaslit.
Gaslighting is another unsettling practice. Again, it's typically thought in terms of romantic relationships, however, gaslighting can happen within any context. Gaslighting, for those not familiar with the term, is a form of psychological manipulation. It's where the person misleads or discredits the other person so that the person being gaslit questions their own thoughts, feelings, and reality.
Have you ever experienced this? You were told one thing and the person said they never said that. That recently happened at my daughter's former daycare. It's one thing to have a misunderstanding, that happens, however, it's another when you had two people witness what was said and it's still denied. Gaslighting can come in the form of lies, deflection, blame-shifting, false narratives and/or character denigration.
Blame shifting happens in a lot of workplaces. It may be gaslighting or it could be the product of an avoidant work culture. If you are being gaslit you typically second-guess or doubt yourself, internalize the recurring psychologically-confusing situations and feel insecure. That's usually the difference.
Before I recommend what you can do about it, there's another frightening dynamic I'd like to explore: groupthink.
Striving for consensus in a group despite personal beliefs or accuracy can be disconcerting because it tends to suppress innovation and creativity. Have you ever been in a group where one person suggests something, and people go along with it despite it being a good idea? That's groupthink. Groupthink not only ignores potential risks of a decision and creative thought, but it can also bolster the group's identity in comparison to other groups and develop a group righteousness. Their way or beliefs are superior to the other groups.
I understand the need to fit in and belong are powerful drivers, however, if you know something's not right speak up if you can. Speaking up can be difficult in these situations, however, what's the cost of not speaking up? Apparently, groupthink can influence your judgement, so it's not only about speaking up. In some cases, a person's view was altered in the groupthink dynamic like the effects of a mind-altering substance. Studies looking at the regions of the brain during groupthink found this.
In some cases, group decisions can be benign or possibly helpful, however, there are other cases where it can be severely detrimental or dangerous. If you are in a situation involving group decision making, look out for any signs of groupthink e.g., not considering different angles or risks of a situation, resistance to differing ideas, blind consensus, etc.
Now that I've gone through the three scary behaviours that can affect work and relationships, here are some things you can watch out for, consider or do about it:
It may be difficult to see it this way at first, however, if you've been ghosted you might want to see it as protection or redirection from that person. If you want some type of closure, you can send them a message and close the door on your terms.
Watch out for signs of soft-ghosting. Soft-ghosters tend to not follow through on plans, struggle to commit to a time or day or infrequently get back to you. It's not an abrupt stop like typical ghosters, however, in some ways it can be worse as sometimes you get some response even if they're not interested. At work, it's similar. In some cases, soft-ghosting can be used as a ploy to have you reconsider your job and quit.
If you tend to ghost, examine why you do so. Is it easier to do due to digital communication? Are you burnt-out or is it easier to avoid a hard conversation? Perhaps you have an avoidant attachment style and this seems fitting to your style. Remember, you're not developing communication or relationship skills by doing so.
Although I'm not a fan of ghosting, it can be an appropriate response, or non-response in this case, if someone is not respecting your boundaries. Cutting off all engagement may be the best in that situation.
Instead of ghosting, try sending a short and honest message. Delivery is important here; you want to say in a respectful way but still get your message across.
Particularly at work, document, document, document if you suspect you are being gaslit. This includes paraphrasing the conversation you just had with that person and sending it to them as a recap. It is also helpful in relationships; save any emails or texts you have as proof of being gaslit.
Changing your mind is not gaslighting, but not taking accountability that you changed your mind or that there could've been a potential miscommunication is.
Try to distance yourself from the situation and talk it out with someone (ideally someone not involved in the situation) for some perspective.
Do not engage. This may be difficult at work, however, try to have as little engagement with the person or situation as possible. Creating healthy boundaries is super important when dealing with gaslighters or any other toxic behaviour.
Reassess your relationship or work situation. Is continuously questioning your reality healthy? It might be time to move on to protect your sanity and mental health.
Again, look for any signs of groupthink when you're in a group making decisions and interrupt it if possible.
Avoid homogeneous groups if possible. Having different people from different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences tends to lessen the powers of groupthink.
Make sure all voices in the group are heard and it's not one or two people coming up with the ideas. If someone is leading, it's best if they wait to hear everybody's thoughts before providing their ideas. If some people are shy to speak up, have an anonymous form/survey like SurveyMonkey where people can make suggestions after the meeting and make a point to follow up on the suggestions in another meeting.
Encourage critical thought and require thinking through each idea before unanimously taking it on. There could be a category of potential pitfalls to the narrowed down ideas. You can even ask someone outside of the group to do this.
Encourage creativity, just because ideas are different from typical ones doesn't make it wrong. Sometimes creative and outside the box ideas are the most successful ones.
Hopefully, there’s a tip or two here that can help you navigate a current situation you are in, that involves one of these troubling behaviours, or a future one. The importance of character (being a good person), healthy boundaries, and leading with care seem like themes in the three. Not so scary behaviours after all if you are aware of them and have the tools and outlets to handle them.
Ps. If you feel you need more support with these behaviours or are looking for a better fit, apply here for a Get Acquainted Call to see if I can help.