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PETER POST

Etiquette at work

Q: I'm unhappy when I hear former presidents and other ex-officials addressed as ''Mister." Doesn't this belittle their importance? I was taught to address people with the highest title or position they've achieved in their career.

W.P., Chelmsford

A: You've waded into the quagmire of what's ''proper" here, so bear with me. When addressing a former president of the United States in a formal setting, the correct form is ''Mr. Last Name." (''President LastName" or ''Mr. President" are terms reserved for the current head of state.) This is true for other ex-officials, as well.

When talking about the person to a third party, on the other hand, it's appropriate to say, ''former president Last Name." This holds for introductions, as well: A current state governor is introduced as ''Governor Tom Smith," while you'd introduce an ex-governor as ''former Governor Jim Bell."

Now, let's wade a bit deeper. In an informal setting (such as a private lunch), it's acceptable to use the title the ex-official held. Here, you could refer to former president Jimmy Carter as either ''President Carter" or ''Mr. Carter."

Finally, if the person you're lunching with held more than one previous position -- say, judge and ambassador -- you'll want to know which title he or she prefers

Q: Our group manager routinely requests meetings through e-mails that say something like, ''Are you free to meet at 3 p.m. today?" without specifics. I find this omission both inconsiderate and inefficient, since it leaves me without any information to use in preparing for the meeting.

Our company has an open e-mail system, where all employees can read everyone else's e-mails, so I can understand not putting great detail into these requests. But I don't see any harm in adding some general comment like ''to go over a request from XYZ customer."

E.P., Westwood

A: I dislike going to a meeting when I don't know what it's about. When this happens to me, I ask. Similarly, when such a request comes from your manager, send an e-mail reply just to the manager -- not the whole group -- saying, ''I'll be there at 3 p.m. Can you please let me know what it's about so I can be prepared?" Do this every time you get asked to a meeting without being told what the subject is. Hopefully, your manager will get the idea.

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