This provocative headline was on a Washington Post article a few years ago that featured two women physicians at the Mayo Clinic who had noticed that their male colleagues were usually introduced at conferences as “Doctor So-and-so.” But the two women and other female doctors were often introduced by their first names, when the person introducing them was a man.
Last year, I heard the pilot of my flight introduce himself using his title of captain, but then introduce his co-pilot by her first name only.
And most recently a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Joseph Epstein made minimizing remarks about Jill Biden’s use of her title "Dr.", including the comment: Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.
Is the use of titles a big deal? Yes. I believe it is.How people address you and what you call yourself really do matter. Names – and titles – have power. Names and titles may confer dignity, or take it away. They influence how you are perceived, and whether people take you seriously.
Though the problem of unequal introductions may not be on the same level as eliminating sexual harassment or the gender pay-gap, it is a communication concern with negative implications for women.
Denying professionals the prestige that a title conveys is a subtle way of undermining them.
Whom would you take more seriously, or believe was more competent: “Dr. Tom Jones” or “Sally Smith”? It seems obvious that it would be the person with the title, because that testifies to his training and professionalism.
The following six suggestions on use of titles and names will help you stop negatively influencing others’ perception of women, even inadvertently. These tips apply for both men and women, and to writing emails.
1. Be consistent with your use of titles. Use professional titles equally for both men and women. If you are mentioning a man by his title, such as Doctor Jones or Professor Smith, refer to a woman the same way. This is valid whether you are giving a speaker introduction, introducing someone to other people at the office or in social situations, or simply mentioning people in informal discussions.
2. Use a woman’s title. Some organizations are very informal with names, but if professional titles are typically used in your organization, refer to women by theirs, such as Dr. (Sally) Jones.
3. Refer to friends/colleagues by their titles when in business settings. You may have a great relationship with Dr. Jones and use her first name when you are together. When you are with other people, however, you should refer to her by her title. You are recognizing her achievement in front of others. If you do not do this, you are establishing a norm that tells people it’s okay for them to call her by her first name. And that may not be the case. (This also applies to men.)
4. Be consistent with the honorific ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ This is similar to the first item. If you say or write, “Mr. Williams,” do the same for the woman, “Ms. Jones.” This conveys a level of respect for both parties. You do not want to say something like, “Mr. Williams and Karen went to the meeting.” In an informal setting you might also use first names for both, such as “Tom and Karen went to the meeting.”
5. Refer to women in the workplace as ‘women.’ Businessmen aren’t referred to as boys; businesswomen shouldn’t be referred to as girls. The words “girls” and “boys” indicate children. I know, I know, you are going to say that it’s intended as a compliment, or it’s a way of expressing camaraderie, as in “girls’ night out” or “the girls I work with in the office.” But ultimately it fosters a less-professional image for women.
6. Don’t use a woman’s nickname or shorter form of her first name —unless you know it is okay to do so or are asked to do so. Children are often called by nicknames. And many shortened names do not have the same standing as full names. My name is Barbara. Do not call me “Barb,” and definitely not “Barbie.” This situation can be tricky. Sometimes people, especially high-power people, will use their nicknames to seem friendly and more approachable. Christine Todd Whitman, the first woman governor of New Jersey and former head of the EPA, will often refer to herself as Christie Whitman. (Her current website is www.christiewhitman.com.)
Men also can be influenced by shortened names. According to a story about basketball legend Michael Jordan on the CBS show 60 Minutes a few years ago, he went from being called “Mike Jordan” to “Michael Jordan” after he scored the winning basket in the 1982 NCAA championship game.
(Note: At the beginning of my blog I didn’t refer to the author of the WSJ article as Joe or Joey Epstein. I used Joseph Epstein--giving him some measure of respect, which he seemingly didn’t want to give the First Lady-elect.)
Start paying attention to your word choices. You may be surprised at how you have been referring to women. Additional information on communication can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.
*This is a repost of a previous blog. It has been updated.
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, professional presence, and presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at email@example.com for more information (www.pachter.com)
My name is spelled correctly in my signature block; why do so many people misspell it in the salutation?
Only my good friends call me Bobby – my coworker should have used “Robert” or “Bob” in the salutation.
I hate reading an email that starts with “Good morning” when it is 9 o’clock at night. The writer has just highlighted that I am 12 hours behind in answering my emails.
Unfortunately, the salutation – whether in an email or a letter – provides endless ways to upset your reader, as indicated by the comments above, from participants in my seminars. And if you offend someone in the first line, that person may not read any further.
Effective salutations can help you connect with your reader, which is especially important during a pandemic. Here are suggestions for starting your correspondence without offense:
1. Spell the recipient’s name correctly. Let me repeat this: Spell the recipient’s name correctly. It may not bother you, but I want to impress upon you that many people are insulted if their name is misspelled. Check for the correct spelling in the person’s signature block. You can also check the "To:" line. Often, people’s first and/or last names are in their addresses.2. Don’t shorten a person’s name or use a nickname unless you know it is okay. Use the person’s full name ("Hi, Jacob") unless you know it is okay to call him Jake. My name is Barbara, but please don’t start your emails to me using “Hi Barb.” (And the only people who may refer to me as Babz are my son and his friends!)
3. Avoid “Dear Sir/Ms." This salutation tells your reader that you have no idea who that person is. Why then should the reader be interested in what you have to say?
4. Use a non-gender-specific, non-sexist term if you don’t know the person’s name. You can use Dear Client, Customer, or Team Member. You can also use Representative, and add it to any company name or department name, such as “Dear Microsoft Representative,” or “Dear Human Resource Representative.”
5. Salutations are highly recommended in emails. Email doesn’t technically require a salutation, as it’s considered to be memo format. When email first appeared, many people did not use salutations. Eventually, people starting adding salutations to appear friendlier and to soften the tone of their writings.
There is a hierarchy of greetings, from informal to formal, and you should match the salutation to the relationship you have with the recipient. The hierarchy follows this format:
Hi, / Hi Anna, / Hello, / Hello Julianna, / Dear Justin, / Dear Mr. Jones,
If the person you are writing to is a colleague, “Hi Anna,” should be fine. If you don’t know the person, or the person has significantly higher rank than you have, you may want to use the more formal greeting: “Dear Justin,” or “Dear Mr. Jones.”
In addition to the greeting, pay attention to these points:
–After two or three emails have gone back and forth on the same email string, the salutations can be dropped.
–The punctuation completing the greeting is a comma.
–If more than one person will receive an email, use "Hello Sara and Bill," or "Hello Everyone."
– "Hey" is a very informal salutation ("Hey Josh," ) and generally should not be used in the workplace. Opening with "Yo" is definitely not okay, no matter how informal your relationship with the recipient. Use "Hi" or "Hello" instead.
–As illustrated in one of the opening quotes, there are people who don’t like receiving an email that starts with “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.” Although I believe this is a minor offense, using “Hello” instead eliminates the possibility of offending anyone.
6. Salutations are required in letters. (Okay, there is one type of letter, the simplified format, that doesn’t require a salutation, but that’s not typical usage. The format is generally used for marketing.) In today’s workplace, a letter is a more formal type of correspondence, and should start with “Dear” followed by either the person’s first name and a colon – “Dear Marie:” – or an honorific and the person’s last name, followed by a colon – “Dear Mr. Jones:”.
Additional information on writing emails can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business writing, professional presence, business etiquette, and communication. Contact Joyce Hoff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (www.pachter.com)
If customers include a closing in their emails, it indicates to me that they are friendly, and so I will do their work first.A woman in one of my writing classes made the above comment when we were discussing how to end an email. Others joined in and added that they liked seeing closings in emails they received. I agree. Emails that simply end without some kind of closing can seem too abrupt. And in today’s coronavirus world, it is especially important to seem approachable. During my recent Zoom classes, numerous questions surface about which closing is appropriate in our casual workplace. Deciding what to use can be confusing. When email first appeared in the workplace, salutations or closings were rarely used. Over time, we have added both to our emails. Though there has been some discussion in the media about whether we need to use closings, in my experience, the majority of people want to keep them. I encourage businesspeople to use closings. Here are my six suggestions: 1. If you start with a salutation, end with a closing. It provides balance to the email. The correct punctuation after the closing is a comma. 2. Match the closing to the salutation. If you use an informal salutation, such as “Hi Amanda” or “Hello Gavin,” use “Regards,” “Best,” “Best regards,” or “Thanks” to close. If you use a more formal salutation, such as “Dear Ms. Jones,” use “Sincerely” or “Sincerely yours.” Only the first word of the closing is capitalized. 3. End with a “closing statement.” Since closings are more relaxed in emails than in letters, you can use a brief statement as your closing, such as “See you at the meeting,” “Thanks for your help” or “Have a great weekend.” 4. With no disrespect intended, avoid using ‘Respectfully.’ This very formal closing is usually reserved for government officials and clergy. Another closing to avoid is “Faithfully yours.” This wording comes from British English, and a woman from India who was in my class said that she was advised very quickly by her boss not to use that closing in the U.S. 5. Tell people what you want to be called. After the closing, on the next line, type your name the way you want to be addressed. If you want to be called “Mike” instead of “Michael,” you should sign “Mike.” 6. Once emails become a back-and-forth conversation, you can drop the closing. It begins to sound repetitious and somewhat silly if you have a long string of emails all proclaiming, “Best regards, Mike.” Additional information on emails can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success. Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business writing, professional presence, etiquette and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at email@example.com (www.pachter.com)
My coworker hates her job. She keeps complaining to me. I have tried to talk to her about what she could do, but she is not listening. She is worried about finding a new position during the coronavirus pandemic.My husband keeps threatening to quit his job. He only comments negatively about his job and the people who work with him. I wish he would just do something.My friend was having difficulty with her schedule, but she didn’t go to her boss to discuss alternatives. She just quit. When I had a problem, my boss adjusted my schedule. My friend’s might have been adjusted, too, if she had said something.As these comments from participants in my seminars indicate, tackling problems that affect our work lives can be difficult. When some people become dissatisfied with their work, they do nothing. Perhaps they don’t know how to proceed, or maybe they don’t believe there is anything they can do to improve the situation. Usually, the only action they take is to whine about their bosses, their colleagues, or the work. Unfortunately, complaining doesn’t accomplish anything – except having your friends, colleagues and others stay clear of you.Some, on the other hand, get so frustrated that they impulsively quit their jobs without having another lined up, or without even a plan for the future. Both reactions can affect your career negatively. However, there is an alternative that can help people evaluate their work situations. Answering the following four questions encourages people to take action and decide their next steps. 1. Ask yourself, what is the real issue? It is easy to say, “I hate my job,” but it is important to identify why. What is the real issue that is causing you to be unhappy? Be honest and be specific. Is it the type of work you do, or just one aspect of the job? Is it the commute, the money, your boss, the people you work with, or any number of other causes? One man I coached liked most of the facets of his job, but wanted to quit because he had to make frequent presentations. Another realized that her new position involved using unfamiliar technology, which made her feel uncomfortable and unqualified. 2. Can you solve the problem? Now that you have identified the issue, is there something that can be done? Is there a realistic solution? If so, what do you have to lose by asking for it? Make the case for your suggestion, including any benefits to your department or to the company. Remember that if you don’t speak up, chances are nothing will change. 3. Are there advantages to this job? If you can’t solve the problem, think about what you are gaining from the position. Don’t just quickly say, “Nothing.” Here are four possible things to consider: --Is the job a stepping stone? Will you need the skills you gain from this position to qualify for a job on the next rung of the ladder? One of my early jobs involved working for a horrible boss. Yet I stayed until I had gained the experience I needed, and then I left. --Is there any education or training perk to which you have access? Some companies will fund part or all of your ongoing education. This can be a major benefit for many people. --Who are you meeting? Does the job allow you to interact with people and build your network? If so, it is possible that by having a strong network, additional job opportunities will come your way. --Can you learn to manage your boss? Learning to work with difficult people is an important skill that almost certainly will be beneficial to you at some point in your career.4. Is it time to start a job search? Depending on how you answer the above questions, you may decide that it is time to start looking for a new position. (Specific suggestions for looking for work during the pandemic can be found in my blog, Looking for a job? 10 tips to help you succeed in a coronavirus world). You may even decide to change careers. Any number of alternatives may now be available to you. This doesn’t mean you just quit your job. Generally, it is best to look for a new job (or career) while you are still working at the old one. Information on conducting a thorough job search can be found in my book The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes. Whether you decide to stay at your current job or to look for a new one, feel good about your choice. You are doing something: You have taken charge of your career. I post regularly on communication and etiquette. We can connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or my website:pachter.com About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally-renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
My coworkers post such vile things on their Facebook pages. I want to tell them that they’re all idiots.
I want to work out; I don’t want to argue with my trainer about the election. If she doesn’t stop talking about her candidate, I will go elsewhere.
I don’t want to discuss politics at work. Yet, my colleagues say nasty things about the candidates and often end up yelling at each other. What do I do?
The recent outbreaks of uncivil behavior in the political arena have impacted our everyday experiences, as the comments above testify. But it's time for people to fight back – politely, of course – and assert that being uncivil to one another is not the way we want public figures to behave. Nor is it the way we should behave.
Bear in mind:
-- You don’t have to mirror the impolite actions of others.
-- You can be “polite and powerful” and express yourself without resorting to bad behavior.
Use these tips to encourage polite behavior in your workplace and in your wider world. (These apply to your social media postings, also.)
1. Don’t attack back. Remember that someone else’s bad behavior is no excuse for your own. I know this may be a hard concept to accept, and even harder to implement – but it is worth practicing. If somebody says something to offend you, it may feel good to respond with a comment like, “Well, what do you know, you idiot?” But this type of response is not going to build your credibility or accomplish anything. Plus, it gives the other person power over you, by getting you to say things that most people will regret later.
2. Disagree agreeably. If you have difficulty with someone, talk to the person. Listen to what he or she has to say. You can evaluate an idea without attacking the person who is promoting it. Explain your reasons. Provide the specific information, quotes and/or research. You can say, “I see it differently, and here’s why…” which is a lot more productive than screaming at people or calling them names. Or, you can say, “Let’s agree to disagree and move on,” or “I am not discussing politics at work. Let’s get back to the topic at hand.”
3. Avoid inflammatory words. Using harsh words such as “stupid,” “ignorant,” and “dumb” only inflames a situation, and this approach is unlikely to lead to a positive resolution. Name calling is just wrong – and childish. Cursing at people is not only mean, it also reflects poorly on the one doing the cursing. (Additional information on word choice and how to respond assertively to aggressive comments can be found in my book, The Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes.)
4. Remember that it’s hard to be nasty to people who are nice to you. This includes meetings in person or via Zoom. Keep “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” in your vocabulary. Greet others when you see them. Don’t interrupt people. Help them when you can. These behaviors are common sense, but unfortunately they’re not always common practice.
5. Do something. If you really don’t like something, take action. Don’t complain to others, get involved. Join organizations. Volunteer for causes you support. Start a blog where you assertively (politely and powerfully) express your opinions – but make sure you follow your company guidelines, if you do. 6. Walk away. And if you don’t want to do any of the above, you can always avoid hostile or impolite discussions by removing yourself from the conversation or taking a break from social media.
Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette and communication skills. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at email@example.com.
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The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success
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5 "Power" Essentials Every Working Woman Needs to Know
Author of 10 etiquette books, Barbara Pachter is a leader in the business
etiquette field, with over 20 years experience as an etiquette trainer and coach. Her first book The Prentice Hall Complete Business Etiquette Handbook in 1995 helped set the standard
for the field, and her most recent book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way To Success continues to establish etiquette guidelines for the
She has given more than 2,500 presentations throughout the world and won numerous awards, including “Best 50 Women in Business in New Jersey.” Her books have been translated into 11 languages. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business, Rutgers University.
She is founder of Pachter & Associates, a business etiquette and communications training company. Her clients range from Chrysler and Microsoft to Pfizer, Cisco and Campbell Soup.