I always enjoy writing to you because you always respond. I just read your column in the Sunday Globe on fund-raising tips, and it got me hoping that someday you’ll find the opportunity to advise telemarketers on something they should not do: address total strangers by their first names.
I often get calls from telemarketers who begin, “Is this Alfred?” When I respond in the affirmative, they proceed to use my first name early and often. It seems to me that if I were in such urgent need of money that I had to phone total strangers for their help, I would address them as Mr. or Mrs. I might even say Sir. I certainly would not address them as if they were a buddy. Over the years I’ve found this a most annoying aspect of their solicitations. I told one as much the other day, and why, and it felt good!
F. H., Natick, MA
One of the etiquette tips we give for both verbal and written communications is to defer to the formal anytime there is a question as to how a person would prefer to be addressed. The formal—Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Rev. plus last name—leaves very little, if any, room for offense, such as you feel when telemarketers start conversing with you using your first name.
When you meet someone for the first time, you don’t know how they wish to be addressed, especially someone older than you or more senior to you in business. Imagine if you started out calling your new boss by her first name only to hear others address her by her title and last name. It will be awkward suddenly to swtich from using her first name to using her title plus last name. Conversely, if you start out using title plus last name, it will be much easier and less embarrassing for you to switch to the informal first name once you know it is acceptable. Often, if you have addressed a person formally, they will respond by saying something like, “Please, call me Shelley.”
The same is true for written communications. With email especially, it is easy to let the informality of the communication process steer you in the direction of being informal. If you’re sending an email to someone more senior than you, to someone you’ve not met previously or not already established how you will address them, then deferring to the formal is a safe haven for you. You won’t go wrong, and the respect you show the person by addressing them by title plus last name will help you start out on the right foot to build a positive relationship .
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.