Dear Sir

Here’s a recent blog post, I’m told from the Harvard Business Review, sent to me by Alden Ulrich:

Skip the Mr. and Mrs.

“Forget what your parents taught you, it’s not always prudent to use a formal salutation, especially in today’s more informal business world. Addressing people by their first name is now the norm in corporate America. Use first names to address colleagues, clients, and bosses. If you are a junior employee, this will level the playing field so that you are perceived as more of an equal. Confidently addressing people by their first names establishes you as mature and self-assured. If you are a seasoned manager, it will convey accessibility. Today’s workers see hierarchies as stiff and outdated. Demanding that subordinates use a formal title comes off as pompous. Note that this informality is not the global norm—learn the local customs before you travel.”

Adapted from “What’s in a (First) Name” by Jodi Glickman.

If you’re what the writer calls a “junior employee” I’d be a tad careful before calling a senior vice president “Joe” or the general counsel “Katey.” It doesn’t level the playing field, especially in hierarchically staid organizations, but it can brand you as abrasive and pretentious rather quickly.

No one ever got in trouble by showing too much respect. Someone who’s clearly a peer can use your first name. Socially, who cares? (Although I still encounter pompous doctors being introduced at a fund raiser or dinner as “Dr. Johnson,” rather than “Mary Johnson.”) If you’re calling out of the blue and want a favor from me or, heaven forfend, cold calling, once you begin with, “Alan, how are you?” and I don’t know you, you’re pretty much finished.

This is especially true with senior people at clients. They’ll usually say, “Call me Harry,” but give them that option. The problem is, apparently, we’re all forgetting too much of what our parents told us and reading too much of the Harvard Business Review blog.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.


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