(From March 3, 2009 newsletter)
The short answer is always.
Typically I never think about this until I’m on the phone and the moment to address the individual arises. Then I’ve been known to panic quietly, second guessing and third guessing myself, unable to decide if an important person should be called Jane / Joe or Ms. Smith / Mr. Smith.
Therefore, I’ve developed a standard policy and I stick with it. I always address everyone by his or her first name. No exceptions.
It’s an American thing
In the United States of America, it’s in the Constitution someplace. Maybe Article 1, Section 1. I don’t have the exact citation, but it’s got to be in there.
I use the first name exactly as the prospect does. The list I’m calling from may show Charles A. Smith. They answer the phone with “Chuck here.” So I respond with “Hi, Chuck.” Not “Hi, Charles,” since they’ve just told me the name they go by, and certainly not “Mr. Smith.” This is one reason you’ve got to listen actively as you make phone calls. Do not absent-mindedly scroll through your e-mails until someone gets on the line.
There are two problems with addressing those at the pinnacle of the pyramid more formally. The first is determining whom to call by Mr. or Ms. Only the CEO? VPs and above? Everyone in the organization? It’s a touchy decision and must be made instantly. Your indecision may leave you stuttering and uncomfortable, causing you to manage the call miserably.
Then there’s the second problem: Do you eventually start calling the executive by his or her first name? If so, when do you make the switch?
If the executive never says anything about his / her name, you could be the only individual on the project calling them by their formal name for the rest of the relationship, perhaps even for years.
Don’t be like Mary
Remember Mary Richards on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show? With the exception of her single date with “Lou” towards the end of the last season, she resolutely called him Mr. Grant. Everyone else, regardless of gender or rank, consistently called him by his first name.
Making this even more pathetic was her reputation for having “spunk”!
Of course, this is an American thing. Practices may vary in other cultures.