Ever had a co-worker perform a disappearing act in the middle of an e-mail exchange? It could be classic avoidance behavior.
When my son was small and did something he shouldn't and knew he was going to hear about it from me, he would smile his impish grin and then squench his eyes shut. In his mind, if he couldn't see me, I couldn't see him and the whole issue would go away. Kind of a cute ploy from a toddler. Not so much from an adult.
I see a lot of the "if they can't see me, they can't use/blame/enforce work on me" mentality in the world of corporate e-mail.
Here's a scenario: You're in an e-mail exchange with someone and at some point you request some information or an action from the person you're e-mailing. All of a sudden, the e-mail string stops, dead in the water. Nothing but crickets. There's never a "I don't know, let me check on it" or a "My bad, let me see what I can do." When that happens to me, I don't know if the other person has stopped long enough to round up what I need, or if he's sitting at his desk squenching his eyes, hoping the whole situation will just go away.
I know that e-mail is a tool and a whole lot of people use it for the communication conveniences it offers over real-life conversations. But, in my opinion, courtesy should not be a casualty of that convenience. It doesn't mean you can abuse the convenience aspect of e-mail to shirk your end of a communication. If you and I were talking in person and at some part of the conversation, I asked you a question that you didn't know the answer to, would you just turn and walk away? I'd hope not.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.