It’s the most frustrating thing in business. You’ll start a relationship with a potential customer, investor, or employee, you’ll make some progress, and then suddenly they won’t answer your emails. Or your voicemails.
You thought you had a deal, but now you don’t know what the F is going on. If you keep emailing or leaving messages, you’ll seem like a pest. But darn it all, there was a real possibility of making a deal, and it hurts to let a golden opportunity die.
However, while being ghosted is rude and annoying, expressing any irritation will just make the other person feel justified for ghosting you. No, the best approach is to be friendly and businesslike, but give the other person a graceful way to get back in touch.
With that in mind, here is your action plan:
1. Send a nudge-o-gram.
A nudge-o-grams is an email specifically designed to reactivate an interrupted or ghosted conversation. In my experience, the most effective by far is:
Subject: Are you OK?
Joe, I haven’t heard from you and now I’m concerned that you might have fallen ill or run into some other sort of difficult problem.
Could you please just send me a quick email to let me know that it’s just been because you’re busy, so I can stop worrying?
This approach works because 1) it doesn’t express any annoyance on my part, 2) it shows I care about the contact, and 3) it gives the contact a face-saving excuse for being unreliable. Usually, that email gets a response that goes something like this:
Subject: RE: Are you OK?
Hey Geoff. I’ve been totally swamped. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you. Here’s where we are on this…
2. Make an alternative visible.
But let’s suppose you still don’t get a response. Then it’s time to play a little hardball. Send an email like this:
Subject: [whatever issue is at stake]
I haven’t heard from you, so I’m assuming that something happened and this is no longer in your bailiwick.
Do have any objection to me taking this up with [contact’s boss]? If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume I’m good to go.
You can bet you next iPhone that email will get a quick response.
In the unlikely event that it doesn’t, well, wait a week and contact the boss! Don’t criticize your contact, just say it’s your understanding the boss wants to handle this issue personally. CC your contact, of course.
There is some risk involved in this technique. People are understandably sensitive about anybody going over their head. A thinly veiled threat like this can strain the relationship. On the other hand, if your contact has been ghosting you, it’s not much of a relationship, eh? So what have you got to lose?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.