Request for an Overly Formal Title

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about appropriate titles of coworkers:

I work as an Administration Executive in a Real Estate company. It is just my third day in the office, and I was approaching my HR executive to inform her about the cleanliness of rest room. I referred the HR person, ‘F’ with due respect by addressing her as “Ms. F”. She objected to that and informed me by email that I cannot call her by name, but instead refer her as ‘MADAM’. I felt bit annoyed. Should I inform her that I cannot call her as Madam as 1) she is of my age and 2) she is not my direct boss?

Signed, Title Troubles

Dear Title Troubles:

I see that you live and work in another country–one that has much different social and business protocols than the United States. I think, if my research is correct (and of course, you would know this better than me!) that Sir and Madam could be used as a courtesy title for someone in charge of a section or unit within a larger organization, even though that person is your own age and not your direct boss. However, I can certainly see how it might be irritating to you, given your own age and position in the company.

Nevertheless, it sounds as though she has tenure over you and is established in her position, so she may feel the extra courtesy is appropriate, at least from a new employee at about the same level as her.Perhaps, as a way to smooth your transition into the new job, you could avoid making this a large issue right now, in order to win concessions later. For example, if you are concerned about the cleanliness of the restroom, that might be more important than this issue–and she is the one who can help with that.

You might also want to notice how others at your level address Madam F. or Ms. F. If no one else at your level calls her Madam, you might want to simply wait awhile and slowly start using the general title.The bottom line is that I don’t think this is worth ruining your first few days or weeks at your work. If she is in HR she may have strong influence with higher levels and could help or hurt you, according to the relationship you establish with her now.In American culture we tend to avoid using titles and people with a formal educational or job title (Doctor, Captain, Professor, etc.) often will smile and say to use their first names instead (Mike, Bill, Carol). But the truth is, almost everyone finds it courteous and nice to have their titles used now and then!

My experience has been that here, people will say not to call them Mr. or Mrs. or Ms., or some other title, but they appreciate the courtesy of being called by those titles until they give permission to use a more casual name. I always use a formal title if someone has one and have had good results by doing that. It may be that your HR person has worked hard for her position and wants to enjoy it, but has gone to a bit of an extreme about it in this case. Tolerate it while you’re new and still finding your way in the job. When you’re comfortable and established you can determine what is the most correct title for her and use it. If she still insists on a title you consider too formal, you will have a better chance of having support from others about it.I hope this is helpful to you. Best wishes in your new job!

Tina Lewis Rowe