Dear reader, a salutation is the word or greeting that precedes a name in all methods of communication. While the term dates from the 14th century, employing the correct term – Mrs. Mr. Ms. Miss and so forth – is even more important today. Current trends for naming children make selecting the correct title more than confusing. Is Apple male or female? Chris could be a man or woman. Zen, while literally calming, is confounding. So what’s a person to do when the gender of a name isn’t clear-cut? Pouring through etiquette books and websites is confusing and not fruitful in this quest. But technology today provides the answer in nearly all cases. The most efficient route, simply call the company or organization and ask the question, “is so-and-so male or female?” This call may require you to preface this question with the reason for your query. And the correct reason is that you are sending correspondence – not that you are stuck in Saturday Night Live’s androgynous world of “Pat,” whose gender is still a mystery.
The workforce today seems averse to using the phone for many reasons, lack of an actual person on the other end of the line, lengthy hold times, shyness and general refusal to use the phone for communication. This is a good way to practice employing the oldest piece of technology on your desk – pick up the receiver and dial away – that’s what it’s there for. And remember, it is impolite to use another’s phone without asking or spritzing with Lysol(TM) before returning the receiver to its cradle. Spreading germs and lipstick imprints are on other’s equipment is just not done.
And speaking of the telephone, another faux pas in today’s lightening fast world is that people on the other end are so busy following a script that they don’t bother to listen to the speaker’s voice or ask if the caller is a Mr. or Ms.? It is infuriating and the height of rudeness to be referred to by the incorrect gender-assigned title and the caller then focuses on this apparent lack of manners rather than answers to their questions – thus wasting time for all involved.
So, you still don’t want to make the call – then conjure up Google(TM) and enter the person’s name, just make sure that you have the right person as names may be more common than you think. Another option is to Google(TM) the company and check if the website lists the employees with brief bios or headshots. And if all else fails, and you still do not want to resort to the telephone, think about who connected you to this person and reach out to them for the answer. It also provides a good opportunity to thank this person for making the connection.
Whatever you do, don’t make an assumption. People love nothing more than the accurate sound of their own name and this includes the gender-correct title. We will look at how to address correspondence when one has a title that goes beyond Mr. or Ms. in the near future. In the meantime, do some research it will benefit you in the short and long term. And this will prevent your communication from ending up in the circular file, where most things enter oblivion when there are mistakes and typos.