One of the best-kept secrets in business today is that manners still count.
Frankly, you would not know this from most greetings you get, either in person, via letter or by e-mail. I have seen grown men in business attire greet each other with, “Hey dude.” Another favorite (not) of mine is, simply “Hey.” A recent article in the Wall Street Journal brought this subject to mind. Call me old school if you like, but I think it’s quite important.
The article discussed how people should address others when sending e-mails. In it, business-etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey states people who don’t start any missive with ‘dear’ lack polish and can come off as being abrupt. Ramsey runs her own etiquette consultancy in Savannah, Ga., called Manners That Sell. In her considered opinion, using the word ‘dear’ sets a tone for that business relationship, and it shows respect. “E-mail is so impersonal it needs all the help it can get,” she notes.
Of course, like anything else there are two sides to the story. The article quotes Kevin Caron, a sculptor in Phoenix and former trucker, as saying the word dear seems “girlie.” While he may begin an occasional e-mail to a female family member with dear, Caron would never use it when writing a man, even a client. “Guys talking to guys—I’m sorry, that’s against the code,” he says.
So what is proper and what isn’t really depends on how you feel about dealing with others and how you yourself interpret good manners.
Many years ago I was mentored by people who believed that good manners in any setting are absolutely mandatory in business; the customer should always be accorded the respect and deference that the seller would want in that position. Today, however, many people seem to practice good manners only when absolutely necessary, as in a job interview or first date. And yet courtesy is essential to any good relationship.
Ask yourself how you like to be addressed, whether in an e-mail or in person or even on the phone?
A few years ago some misguided marketing expert said that if you called strangers by their first name it would break the ice more quickly and they would fall under your spell. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I’m called by my first name by somebody I don’t know who is trying to sell me something on the telephone, I’m offended. I’m not alone in this; many others I’ve talked to feel the same way. I say you always address someone you’ve just met by their last name with a Mr. or Ms. in front of the name, unless asked to do otherwise. It shows respect and good manners.
Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, who runs the Syntax Training business writing school in Seattle, says she tells clients they can forgo dear in e-mails but must keep it in business letters. “We don’t use dear because someone is dear to us but because we understand the standards of business writing and recognize the standards of intelligent business people,” she says.
Then there’s Anna Post, the great-great granddaughter of etiquette icon Emily Post, who feels that using dear isn’t as important as it used to be but also suggests that with a new client or someone you don’t know well, it’s best to use dear.
My belief is that e-mail really is no different than writing a letter. Good manners should always prevail. I’ve never heard of anyone ever being turned off by a display of good manners. The problem is that many people are in such a hurry to get things done that they forget the very basics of what has made us successful, including good manners. One of the major problems with e-mails or any electronic device communication is the fact that too often we are writing in a vacuum. We can’t see the other person by viewing their eyes, posture or overall demeanor. Consequently, when someone starts calling me Chuck or Charlie (or even, one day, “Stud”), I recoil at their stupidity and gall.
If you really want to impress someone – whether it’s your boss, a good friend, a colleague or a customer – go out of your way to practice respect and courtesy in all interpersonal communications. I guarantee you’ll be amazed at the positive responses you get, including respect, thank-yous and even some new business.