When you meet someone new, under social or business circumstances, it's important to know how to address the individual standing in front of you. Properly addressing people in different situations shows you're respectful of their position and mindful of not offending them in any way. Refined social etiquette as it relates to addressing others promotes smooth and friendly conversation.
Here are 10 tips for properly addressing people in different situations:
1. If in Doubt, Keep it Formal
If you meet someone in a situation and you're unsure of how to address him or her, err on the side of caution by using formal address. If the person on the receiving end feels this is too 'stuffy' of an address, they will let you know. For example, you may say, "Nice to meet you, Sir!" Whereupon the person may say, "Please, call me Bill." So, until directed otherwise, use formal address to start your conversation.
2. Use Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. When You know Their Last Name
Until told otherwise, use the person's surname with their title when you meet someone (if you know his or her last name). Again, you may say, "Hello Mrs. Robertson!" She may respond, 'Oh, it's Shirley; call me Shirley."
If you use one of the above salutations, continue with it in future meetings. There will be a natural point where you and the other party may resort to first names as you get to know each other better. Until then, stick with the formal address.
3. Use Professional Addresses Where Applicable
Are you addressing a member of the medical or academic profession? If you are, be aware of their title as relates to their profession. This is where the use of Dr. and Professor come in. Hey, you may meet the Queen and have to use the words "Your Majesty!" Whoever it is, try to find out beforehand their official title and use it respectfully.
4. If You're Still Not Sure, Ask
Sometimes it doesn't hurt to ask someone how he or she wishes to be addressed. Use formal address first, and then ask them if they prefer something else. You can simply ask, "Is it okay if I call you Rachel?" When you know this is their name you can ask this - they will either say yes, or tell you what they prefer.
5. Sometimes You Can Just Use First Names
This is dependent on the situation and whom you're meeting. You can usually get a feel for when to use first names only. This is typically in informal social gatherings. It's also appropriate at some formal social gatherings, for example at a wedding when you meet a group of people at your table. Here, people normally say something like, "I'm Carol, and this is my husband James." You respond with your first name and this all breaks the ice and starts the evening off on a friendly note.
6. Sometimes You Should Only Use Last Names
An example of this would be a business conference. You may ask a question of another business professional and address them by Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. In fact, Ms. is used quite often in business. Ms. is applicable to a married or unmarried woman.
7. When Corresponding By Email or Letter Be Formal... at First
In written correspondence, use formal address the very first time. This is in emails and in handwritten letters (yes, some people still do write letters and good for them!) Again, the recipient of your digital or paper correspondence will let you know how they wish to be addressed in future communications. If they don't let you know, then go with the status quo of formal address.
8. Be Aware of Nicknames, Pseudonyms, and Titles of Affection
Some people wish to be addressed by a unique moniker. They may have a nickname or use a pseudonym. The great spy novelist John le Carre's real name is David John Moore Cornwell, but if you met him at a literary event, you would probably address him by his pseudonym, 'Mr. le Carre."
You may meet someone who always goes by a nickname. I was in a social situation once where one person addressed another saying, "Hi, Pop Tart." Of course, you have to discern whether a nickname is reserved for close friends only. Again, you can address formally, and then ask how they would like to be addressed.
In addition, there are the typical titles of affection people use such as "Pops" or "Gramps" for a grandfather. Guys often use the term "Bud" or "Buddy" in everyday discourse. Recently more popular is the use of "Sister" between women.
9. Be Consistent in Your Addresses
Until informed otherwise, be consistent in how you address others. Did you initiate a conversation with someone by, for example, calling them Ms. Davis? Unless she indicates otherwise, your next address to her should not be on a first name basis, or 'Hey sister!" Use common sense and be consistent in your addresses or you come across as disrespectful.
10. Do Some Research
A lot of trouble in addressing others can be avoided by, if possible, doing some research before meeting them. This doesn't work for impromptu meetings; in those cases abide by the above tips. However, when you know ahead of time who you will meet, research who they are and what they do. This will give you an idea of how to address them. Think of it this way; the leader of the Klingons probably knew ahead of time, through research, that he must address the leader of the Starship Enterprise as "Captain Kirk."
Be mindful of the above 10 tips for properly addressing people in different situations. You acknowledge the position of others and you open the door to conversation based on mutual respect. You know how nice it feels when someone addresses you in a dignified manner upon meeting them.
Properly addressing the individual you're about to have a conversation with is a manifestation of the Golden Rule of "Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you."