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Emailing A Letter of Condolence: Acceptable or Insulting?

December 1, 2008

When his grandmother died, a teenage son emailed his dad to say he was sorry for his loss.

The dad flipped out.

He demanded that his other 20-something son talk to his inconsiderate teenager brother and give him a lesson in respect—obviously he should have called instead.

When a friend of the family discovered this had happened, she started crying and declaring that a generational war was about to occur because kids these days just don't understand that a phone call does not suffice when a grandmother dies. They should stop by the house with flowers and be willing do to whatever it takes to help the family.

During the funeral, the older son hit the younger one in back of the head and said "Why'd you send that email? That was totally uncool."

"What do you mean," the teenage son replied. "I was going to send a text."

The audience listening to this speech during a keynote address at CCH's user conference earlier this fall responded with shock and disbelief until the keynote speaker—the older son—explained his point.

To the dad, the email was the disrespectful cop-out. To the family friend, it was the phone call. And to the teenager, it was the text message.

If generations are going to work together in harmony, they need to understand that they think differently and that those differences aren't necessarily wrong or in bad taste. Just different.

What do you think? Please hit the comment link to share your opinion.

Scroll down to the Stories section of this page to see a Q&A I conducted with the older son, Peter Sheahan, for this month's issue of Accounting Technology magazine. Sheahan started his career in Australia, but he travels the world talking about these issues and offers many useful books, videos and other information on his Web site:

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