13 February 2009


I'm going to sound like one of those older folks who says, “Those young whippersnappers today have no sense of respect.”

I think about this from time to time. In my job, proper protocol is essential. You call people by their proper title at all times, whether they are higher than you on the food chain or lower. Everyone has a title and this is what should be used to address them.

This is how it should be done. “Should” being the operative word.

I was at a work event the other day where a bunch of other sections came together to celebrate how we work together. It was a nice event with some of the politicians in the state too, and the governor even came to speak to us. It was a lot of fun, but as I walked around after during the post-social hour, I found myself confused as to how to address some of the folks.

During the event we were in our formal attire and so of course every one was by title. But in the bar afterward, suddenly they became Joe and Marty and Cathy and Bob. Now I work with these folks, so the first name basis isn't a big deal because we all know each other.

But this morning, while I was thinking about that, I thought about a moment last October when I was visiting a friend. We were going to go to a college game of the team he loves; as he puts it, “I bleed maroon and white.” yeah yeah. Anyway, his whole family is associated with the school one way or another – whether they attended school there or work there or just bleed love for them. Well, my friend asked his brother in law, “What do you think Jim* was thinking when he took out Scott* last week?” (*names changed because I can't remember what they were). My friends BIL turned to him and said, “Well, I'm not on a first name basis with Jim so I don't know what he thinks.”

For some reason this popped into my head today. I was thinking about how people I work with call each other by first names, because we work together and we just can't be “bothered” with titles as we should. But it extends beyond just our co-workers. It seems to flow into all the conversations, even with people you meet for the first time.

Now, don't get me wrong. We're a small organization and for the most part we do all know each other, and often on a first-name basis. But should we be using that in the workplace? What happened to protocol and proper addressing of elders or even one another?

Another story, when I was in elementary school I was talking with my father about teachers and I said, “I love Lambert. He's so great!” And my dad stopped me, “Moe, his name is MR. Lambert. Not just Lambert.” I said, “Well, why can I call Mr. Gunderson “Gundy” then?” Dad had said, “You can call him Gundy outside of school because we are neighbors and you play with his daughter, but at school you need to call him Mr. Gunderson and show him that respect.”

Is that what it comes down to? Respect? If I call Boss1 by his first name (which I never do, it just seems wrong), is that disrespecting him? I know I get annoyed when my co-workers will call him by his first name, but I don't do it either. There are a few of my bosses I call by my first name, and it's not that I don't respect them, it's just how I've always known them.

I struggle with this because I like that we're a close enough organization that we can be on a first-name basis, but it also pains me when it doesn't seem to be right.


Jill Will Run said...

I have a friend who I run with regularly, but she is also my chiropractor. I have a hard time calling her "Dr. XXX" at the office as opposed to her first name, but I try to out of respect for her position and for the people that work for her and call her "Dr.".

But you're right, the world has changed in such a way where it seems like titles and respect aren't given much though.

And I don't even want to get into the "young whippernsappers" moment I had this week with my neighbors and their clothes. Ugh... :-)

Kat said...

I have had those moments... I want to call my friend's mom "Mrs. Smith", but who does that? lol. Still, especially with older folks, or people of some station, it seems appropriate.

I went to traffic court for a ticket and waited for an hour or so, listening to everyone else speak to the judge. I was appalled at how casually they addressed him. I was the first one that day to call him, "Sir". "Yes, sir." "Thank you, Sir." A few people chuckled, but I was sincere. I was also the first one to get off with a warning. I think he appreciated the respect, pity it wasn't the norm.

Anonymous said...

This post comes with interesting timing. On my recent trip, we had some days in our work clothes (both formal and everyday), and some days in our personal clothes (both formal and everyday).

We were specifically instructed that for the purposes of this trip, if we were in personal clothes, first names were to be used, regardless of position on the org chart (and we had all levels represented).

The trip organizers really wanted us to get comfortable with each other to facilitate thinking outside the box and outside our station. The focus, for this conference at least, was on fostering ideas, not who's allowed to have them, or who they're supposed to channel them through. For someone like me, who's pretty low on the totem pole, it really did make it easier for me to throw out my own ideas and critique others' without trepidation.

As you can imagine, though, there were some people who I just couldn't bring myself to call by their first names, either because they were so high up the hierarchy, or because I work for people who work for them. In those cases, I manged to avoid using their name at all... maybe just a "yes sir, but... " or something along those lines.

Anyway, I tend to prefer the formal use of title and name, since, if nothing else, it's consistent. I think that each inter-personal relationship can have its own dynamic, so it's entirely possible for some people to use first names without losing the element of respect. Since that's not always the case, though, a standard protocol helps ensure there's never any doubt.

Mtanga said...

Respect goes both ways. You have to give it to get it.

While I'm on a first-name basis with my co-workers, things don't need to be so personal. I don't mind being collegial, but I'd prefer people to realize we're at work, working together, not meant to be BFF.

There's also a strange dichotomy between older folks (60+) and "younger" folks (ahem, 38 and below!)

Case in point: my boss came up to me two weeks ago, thanked me for doing a good job and "being a good kid."

I like my boss; he's a nice man. But I am not his child. (PS: I am 29 years old).

So, I told him that while I appreciated his sentiment, I'd prefer to be a good co-worker or colleague, not a good "kid". I felt like a complete ass, but also completely patronized at the same time.

This kind of stuff goes on all the time, just recently another co-worker told me she didn't think Drew was old enough to grow a beard. He's 31!!