Friday, September 4, 2009

Using First Names

I just received a phone call from someone who never met me whose first word was, "Daniel?" Right away this is red flag to me because none of my friends or family would ever call me by that version of my name. The caller did not even ask, "Is this Daniel? or "May I speak with Daniel?" I usually reply in my best public service voice, "This is Dr. Stuhlman, may I help you?" Sometimes they continue to use "Daniel" as if they are familiar with me. Sometimes they will reflect back, "Oh, Dr. Stuhlman, I'm Joe from XYZ company."

I went to visit a Chicago high school a couple of weeks ago. Everyone on the faculty there is addressed with a title, "Dr., Mr., Ms, etc." The person I was meeting with had never met me before. He introduced himself as, "Dr. A." No first name was given. I have not even sure how he spells or pronounces his last name. I replied, "I'm Dr. Daniel Stuhlman, nice to meet you." I handed him my calling card to make sure he knew my name.

Perhaps unsolicited callers have no training in derech erets (good manners)? Or perhaps manners don't exist any more? What if I didn't answer my own phone? What if the caller started talking and solicited or reveled something that the person answering should not know? Here are Stuhlman's Rules for phoning. 1) Make sure the person on the other end is the person you want to talk to. 2) Use full names to establish that the person is the right person. 3) Do not assume you can call someone by a nick name. For example I am not "Dan," "Danny," or "Don." Anyone calling me by those names will not get my attention. I will just think they are trying to find someone else.

I were calling from the place where I work I would identify myself ("Hello, this is Daniel Stuhlman from XYZ Library.") and then make sure I have the right person ("May I please speak with Sally Jones?")

How do you want strangers to address you?



ML: I first encountered the phenomenon when working for a bank in the early '90s. While helping a couple of departments with mail merges, I noticed that they were omitting titles of respect and using "Dear [first name] [last name]:" as the salutation. When I asked about it, I was told that this was because a) some women are offended by being called Ms. So-and-So, while others are offended by Mrs. So-and-So or Miss So-and-So; and b) with all the gender-neutral and just plain unusual first names that parents have chosen since the 1970s, you no longer know from the first name whether you're addressing a man or a woman. That, coupled with general a trend towards less formality in today's society, has led to the conclusion that you're less likely to offend someone by addressing them by first name or first & last name than by attempting to use a title of respect. In your case, you were talking to someone working with a list of first and last names and a script.

RF: Debt collectors are not allowed to use a last name until they have the correct person -- same with doctor's offices. This is for ensuring privacy.

DS: My point was that the caller did not establish he had the correct person. This morning's call was not a debt collector call; he was from a trade publication that I subscribe to.

RF: He was just rude.

DS: Yes. This is kind of rudeness is common. I was also seeking the experience of others.

1 comment:

Gwyn said...

I love reading your blog. This happens at our library all the time. More with patrons than vendors, but still. I think in some ways it's nice that they find comfort in answering questions of 1 person, but other times it can be daunting if someone always refers to the 1 librarian. It's tough because you always walk a fine line where you don't want to be TOO friendly, but you don't want to sound cold/uncaring, and you want someone to be able to be comfortable talking to you, but you don't necessarily want to be on a 1st name basis. I don't know the answer. :).