One of my best and dearest friends is currently distraught because someone he has been very fond of and close to for many years suddenly stopped communicating with him, or in the parlance of the day, has “ghosted him.” All of a sudden, for no reason he can imagine, his vanished friend refused to answer his phone calls, texts, emails or social media entreaties. It’s driving him nuts. No, his friend hasn’t died or been kidnapped. He’s just been cut out, dropped like the proverbial hot potato.
I thought about my friend’s pain during a recent work mystery: I was supposed to review an agreement for ethics issues, and time was supposedly of the essence. The company that had proposed the deal, however, kept stalling in sending the draft. First it was an email with the infuriating missing attachment; next it was the wrong file. Time was ticking: my client wanted to know what was causing the delay on my end.
I called everyone on the conference call that had ended with the document review as being agreed upon as the next step: nobody answered. Nobody answered my emails either. I called the lawyer orchestrating the deal. He was “out” but would call me later that day. He didn’t. I called again, telling his secretary that this was not making me confident about the company’s worth as my client’s business partner. I was told the lawyer’s assistant would call me “quickly.” Two hours later, after receiving no call, I called again. I was, shall we say, sharp. The secretary apologized and connected me to the lawyer’s assistant. She was professional, understanding, cooperative. She said there was no reason for me not to have received the document. “I’m going to storm into his office right now, and you’ll have the agreement to review in five minutes” were her exact words.
I never received the file, and I never heard from the assistant again.
What’s going on here?
This kind of thing has happened to me before. Once a lawyer who had scheduled a meeting to discuss a seminar for her firm stood me up, and I never got an an apology, an explanation, or any response, despite many calls and emails. A bar association that has been relegated to ProEthics Hell persuaded me to do a series of brief programs at a state convention for free, promising that it would hire me to do a full seminar in a few months. I never heard from the director after the convention. Finally I was told that she left for another job, so I contacted her new place of work and left numerous, polite, simple messages. Again, I never heard back.
This conduct, which I know is common, is a straight Golden Rule violation. There can be no excuse or justification for it. That company giving me the runaround on the document had as close to an excuse as I can imagine—I later learned that just as we were trying to settle on an agreement, the metaphorical wheels had fallen off, and everyone was furiously trying to stave off disaster. (They failed. Heh, heh, heh…) OK, fine, I get it. But that still didn’t justify lying to me while allowing me to waste my time and energies seeking the document they had promised.
All they needed to say was, “We’re sorry, but we have some urgent matters to deal with right now, and are re-evaluating this and some other transactions.” How hard is that? It’s simple decency, and the way anyone would want to be treated rather than being left in the dark.
The same is true of the kind of cruel treatment my friend is enduring. It’s mean, cowardly, and unfair: you don’t treat someone like that, because you know how much you would hate being treated like that. My friend is owed an explanation. If he did something that hurt his ghosting ex-friend, he should be told what it was. He also deserves an opportunity to apologize, make amends, or conclude that the reason for his exile is absurd…because you should treat others the way you want to be treated by others.
I feel the same way, incidentally, about being unfriended on Facebook. If I decide to unfriend someone, I tell them beforehand and explain why. I detest seeing that the Facebook friend count has gone down one without any clue who it was or why: what did I write or say? If I was wrong, I’d like to apologize, or if I wasn’t, then I’d like a chance to explain.
Usually, I conclude “no great loss,” the same analysis I gave my friend about his ghosting. It is no great loss because people who lie, duck, and evade to avoid having an unpleasant conversation and confronting someone they are in the process of mistreating are unethical and untrustworthy people, and are finally showing their true character.
Be grateful, at least, for that.