I'd like to talk to you about hate mail. By this, I don't mean threatening emails that I receive at work (although I do get some very strange ones). I mean the business emails that I hate most.
These are not, as you might think, the emails from colleagues or business partners that create a lot of extra work for me. Nor, funnily enough, are they the ones that offer to deposit huge sums of money into my bank account in exchange for well, in exchange for the details of my bank account.
No, the emails (and letters) that really get up my nose are the ones that start, "Dear Ian".
Now, you might think I'm being a bit oversensitive here. After all, Ian is my name (in case you're interested, it's the Scottish form of John). So what's the problem?
Well, I have no problem at all with friends or colleagues addressing me like this. Nor, in most cases, do I mind if a business partner whom I have met only once calls me Ian. In that sense, I guess I'm a fairly typical Brit, who accepts a high degree of informality in business communication.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me
But the people who really annoy me with their informality are those who don't know me at all. For example, I sometimes get marketing letters from an American management magazine that start "Dear Ian", and then go on to tell me that they know how valuable my time is, how important am I, blah, blah, blah.
My reactions, in reverse order of annoyance, are: (3) "if only you knew how much time I waste, you wouldn't say that"; (2) "I don't regard myself as important at all"; and (1) "show some respect and don't address me as 'Ian' when we don't know each other".
How often do you ask yourself these questions before communicating, whether on the phone, in emails, in meetings or at job interviews? If you're like me, your answer will be "not often enough".
First name terms do not automatically mean a German "du" relationship
For example, when did you last think about your email style? Not just the way you address people but also the formality or informality of your writing, your use of abbreviations or smileys, and even whether you have spelling mistakes or typos in your messages. You can test your email style with a special checklist in the current edition of Business Spotlight.
But how should you address business partners who you don't know well? Here are some guidelines:
Finally, just in case the situation arises, how would you address Paul McCartney if you met him? (I'm assuming that, even if you are under 30, you know who he is. If not, he was once in a reasonably successful British band called "The Beatles" ) Anyway, would you call him Paul, Mr McCartney, Sir, or what? In fact, the correct address would be "Sir Paul", not Sir McCartney. For a woman, the equivalent title is "Dame".
Oh, and by the way, feel free to call me Ian.
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