Greetings and salutations

January 23 2011

I'm feeling the pull of formality, and I'm not sure why.

Over the holidays last month, I received a customer inquiry through about Lotus Notes Traveler.  It was from an end-user in one of our clients in the healthcare industry.  In his signature, I learned that he was a doctor, just looking to get his Notes mail on his iPad.

Out of respect, in writing him a response, I addressed it to "Dear Doctor ______".  The reply I received to that mail, though, was signed "Thanks! Phil".  It was like I had made a new friend.  I was surprised at how someone in a profession where I've always felt the need to address the practitioner as Doctor came back with his nickname.

Perhaps it was another influence.  In September, as readers know, my wife and I had our anniversary dinner at Alinea.  We were fortunate enough to be invited back in the kitchen on our way out.  One real surprise there -- everyone addresses everyone else as "Chef", whether they are the line cook or the Chef Achatz.  The kitchen hummed quietly with activity, and this slightly deferential respect exhibited was clearly an element of the efficiency and effectiveness of Chef Achatz's team.  I now find it almost as rote to address a chef as "Chef" as I do a Doctor "Doctor", even chefs who I have met several times and know by their first names.

Another place I've found this formality is Germany, where I completed my 30th visit last year.  I still haven't studied the German language, but visit enough times and you start to pick up the basic rhythm and phrases.  Eventually, it became clear that no matter the setting, the Germans always address each other in a business meeting as Mr. or Miss/Mrs., part of the formality of the language overall.  As such, I find that it's now become part of my own interaction in that part of the world.

Despite all this giving of formality, I can't receive it.  This semester, I am working with a group of college students on a business analysis project.  In the first mail from the class last week, the teem spokesperson apologized up front for emailing me directly and addressing me as "Ed".  Calling me Mr. Brill would have creeped me out, because I've earned that title in no other way than becoming older.  And I don't want to feel older :-)

On the other hand, when Nathan Freeman writes about how he's worked on Lotus Notes for 20 years now, and in a week I will be inviting him to the stage as part of my messaging and collaboration strategy session at Lotusphere, I have to wonder what our own level of formality will be.  I doubt it would be good form to start our discussion with "Yo Nate, what the bleep have you been up to with XPages, g?"  On the other hand, he said to me in chat this week that he was even thinking of buying a suit for his appearance.  

Let's not take things too far, Mr. Freeman.

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