Episode 14: August 5, 2007
by Adam Lowe
Dear Kind and Honorable Reader, or is that Mr. Reader, Ms. Reader? It can often be confusing figuring out exactly how to address someone, be it in writing or personal interactions. Is it better to always be more formal, or will that sometimes give the impression of distance and lack of warmth? Especially in the workplace, there is a great deal of movement to less formal interactions. So here are a few tips to help with addressing other people.
How Should You Address People?
If you are introduced to the parents of a friend or spouse, you should address them more formally at first. Use the appropriate title (Mrs., Dr., Mr. or Ms.) and their last name until you are invited to do otherwise. You should do the same when meeting someone who is significantly older than you.
How Should You Address People at Work?
In the workplace, there are two schools of thought. Start by addressing all by their honorific, to demonstrate your formality and how seriously you take the work environment. Or, start with the casual approach of addressing all by their first name, to demonstrate your friendly and collegial attitude.
A workplace situation where you should be more formal is when you are addressing customers or clients of your company.
A workplace situation where you should be more formal is when you are addressing customers or clients of your company. Here you are almost always better off starting with an appropriate honorific, until you are asked to do otherwise. Of course, use your judgment here as well, but err on the side of formality if you are unsure.
How Should You Address Your Boss in a Social Situation?
As an example, let's say you run into your boss, Lucy, and a client at a baseball game. If you generally call your boss by her first name, it is certainly acceptable to continue doing so unless the casual address would somehow diminish her stature in the client's eyes, but use the formal address for the client. You might say something like, "Lucy, Dr. Mertz, how nice to run into you both; are you enjoying the game?"
For the international traveler or businessperson, it is important to be aware of the local customs. Many countries are more formal than the U.S., so it is best to learn about the regional norms for addressing others, and always start with a more formal approach unless you know that a casual approach would be welcome.
How Should You Address People in Emails?
When writing letters or e-mail, you should generally use the same title you would in face-to-face interactions, unless the message is going to be circulated to a broader and more formal audience, in which case you might consider using the recipient's proper title. In formal communication, one should use a colon after the opening salutation, while a comma is commonly used in personal and casual communication.
So here's hoping all your greetings are warmly received,
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