What is the Absence Effect?

You feel it all the time, but are you using it to your advantage?

Aaron Webber
Mar 18, 2020 · 4 min read

When I ride my motorcycle on chillier days, I rarely notice how cold I am when zooming around. It is only when I come to a stop and begin to warm up slightly that I realize just how frigid I felt in motion. Most riders can relate to this sensation I’m sure, but the idea behind this phenomenon is more universal.

When you’re in the middle of tumult it can be difficult to center yourself and take stock of how severe your predicament is. In business, we have all rallied around employees and clients who are tough to deal with.

Of course you understand how difficult it is to manage them in the moment, but when it is time to cut the relationship short, you will have far more clarity into exactly how much you were bending over backwards to maintain them.

I call this the Absence Effect.

Would your business be better off without a particular client? Without a particular employee?

Unfortunately, you may not know until they have left. You can hypothesize and assume all you want. Sometimes a mutual separation is best for both parties. Other times, you’ll have to come to terms with just how much you have lost.

The absence effect causes you to realize how bad or good things were, and you don’t realize that until the departure has occurred.

The easiest way to process the effect is to use it as a learning moment and a warning for the future. Potential hires or clients who share similar traits to the troublesome ones you just dealt with may not be smart choices if you know how your resources will be stretched for them.

It’s not to say you should always avoid difficult relationships; sometimes we cannot afford to pass up on help or extra funding. Instead, do not be caught off guard experiencing the relieving absence effect from challenging ordeals and slip into another you may not be able to handle.

Use the effect to move onward with confidence and understanding, not just momentary relief.

On a more positive note, there are times when the absence effect arises for good experiences. A relationship ends and you may think, “Wow. They are gone and I am realizing how much they made my life easier.”

When this happens, combine the absence effect with the principle of leaving well. Always steer the parting of ways with collaborators towards the positive.

Assuming you’ve done your best with that person or client, you will want to end the connection as cordially as possible. If you let them leave with a good taste in their mouth, their own absence effect may become more of a ‘grass is always greener’ mindset in the future. There’s no guarantee of it, but the chances of them coming back to you will grow.

I have had pleasant professional relationships end for the other party to seek greener pastures, but because I saw their worth and sensed an impending absence effect from their positivity, I worked harder to send them off well so they knew they were always welcome back. It’s as simple as letting them know directly or chipping in an extra buck for a farewell party.

In some cases, their endeavors did not pan out and they came back happily.

Combining the principles of the absence effect with leaving well can apply to the testier relationships too.

Sometimes a client just needs to go elsewhere to realize their woes lie within and not on their collaborators' capabilities. Eventually, there is the chance they realize that you were the partner they needed all along, even if the first go-round was checkered. Their return, if you’ll have them, would again be driven by how well you parted with them prior and their positive absence effect. I find that this version is less applicable to problematic employees, but it’s still worth keeping in mind.

Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder, but it always elicits emotion of some kind.

Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

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