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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Business Communication : How to Address - Dear Sir (s) or Madam ??

Can you recognize this logo ?


Beginning a conversation with someone new may be a daunting proposition because of cultural norms and expectations. The way one addresses, places the subject appropriately in the middle and concludes with salutation are respected.  In modern World [SMS language] one may get carried away by the mindless [or mind boggling] abbreviations and short forms.  I belong to a generation whence joining a Typewriting institution was the norm, learning shorthand was considered a higher standard and mastery in stenography, gave a genius status ! ~ the days when formal English flowed in business letters and demi-official memos, dictated and transcribed manfully on typewriter keyboards [which had no del / correct facility] – a single wrong typeface would remain ungainly and there was this breed of Specialists, who typed out volumes of letters and statements where the account figures would match between different sheets .. .. .. ……..

Away from all this, a well-drafted letter [or e-mail communiqué]  should  start with an appropriate salutation, the precisely written subject line, the detailed clear subject matter,  conclusion with the name, designation and Organisation signature of the Sender.  Imperatively, it has to have the right people or group who are expected to respond on the ‘To’ field and those who are required to be kept informed by the mail in the ‘CC’ field and less talked about the ‘bcc’ field.

Thus invariably, all communications should start with – Dear Sir.  When addressing a Woman colleague, it generally Madam and if it is fellow employee or Junior, it could be a bit complicated – whether Mrs or Ms, and now a days Ms is taken to be common.  However, special care is to be taken when it comes to addressing some specific posts like  the Governor,  a High Court Judge or one which specifies a 'protocol' that  is meant to be adhered to.  – but, if one were to write to a group or people without being sure whether the addressee is a Man or Woman – whether it should be – ‘Dear Sirs' or 'Dear Sir or Madam' could be the Q that one comes across ?

Generally, in a formal writing,  beginning with Dear Sir(s) or Dear Sir or Madam are equally acceptable, but make sure you match these with Yours faithfully at the end. Yours sincerely is used in less formal letters when the name of your correspondent is known, thus: Dear Vijay  or Dear Mr Dhoni  would end with Yours sincerely. If you know your correspondent very well, you might begin with Dear  Ashwin and  end with either Yours or Best wishes.

Sometime back, one of Britain’s most prestigious law firms  banned the use of “Dear Sirs” from all of its legal documents and communications, apparently the first of the “magic circle” of top City legal companies to do so.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer  stopped using the phrase  and directed that all communications to be  “Dear Sir or Madam”, while in the US all correspondence  were to start with “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen”. Equivalents in Cantonese, Mandarin and European languages were also agreed across Freshfields’ global network. The firm implemented the change after one of its London associates researched legal documents from the last 10 initial public offerings of private company shares. It found 81 law firms and banks exclusively used “Dear Sirs” on letters and communications during the process. Freshfields’ joint managing partner Chris Pugh said: “It’s a relatively small change, but it’s a significant point and you notice that when everyone immediately accepts that the change needs to happen.”“I hope it will shed light on other things that we might inadvertently be doing that risk alienating people we communicate with - not only people at Freshfields but clients and other professionals as well.”

A Chief Executive of  one of the UK’s largest charity for women’s rights, said the change was long overdue. “It’s to be welcomed, but it is pretty basic stuff which we should all be doing really. I still get referred to as ‘Mr Sam Smethers’ by the media, despite being the chief executive of a women’s charity. We have to think about the language we use as it reveals the assumptions and decisions being made. Even parliament continues to use ‘he’ in legislation, the assumption being that that will refer to everyone. We should be looking at gender neutral language for our legislation too.”

Law firm Withers said the male address was “accepted standard”. A spokesman said: “It very much depends on who we’re writing to. If they are an individual then it depends on their gender and title. If it’s an organisation, then we currently use ‘Dear Sirs’ as that remains the accepted standard. There is currently no formal plan to change this, but it is an area we’re happy to explore.”

However, this only answers the Q, when the Q is how to address someone when the addressee is not known – otherwise ‘Dear Sirs’ appears to be perfectly in order to me.   To me, it appears right to address a Woman as ‘Madam’ or when Dear Mrs … ..  (somehow, I am not too comfortable in Dear Madam – for it appears to be a fusion of knowing one and being formal)

Before concluding another leading website lead to me to an article which reads :
• Dear Sirs;  Dear Sir/Madam;  Dear Sirs and Mesdames; Dear Ladies and Gentlemen ; Dear Gentlemen and Ladies; Dear Colleagues; Dear Other Folks; Dear Losers;  Dear Lawyers - they have a common characteristic: they serve no point.

Here’s a startling revelation – you could remove that kind of meaningless salutation entirely and not change a single thing in the actual meaning of the letter. Now if you were using a personal salutation like “Dear Bob” or “Dear Mrs Smith” then that might be different – but many firms now use an Attention: Person approach to this in the address block itself, which makes lots of sense.

So while the magic circle catches up with 2006 in its strive towards gender neutral salutations, the rest of us should be considering just abolishing them entirely. Next, in changing the language how they have they have actually changed the meaning.

The reason “Dear Sirs” exists is because, traditionally, you were writing to the firm rather than to the individual. That’s why it was plural, and it’s also why you started marking things to people’s attention, rather than actually directing the letter to them.  However, “Dear Sir or Madam” does not achieve that goal – you’re now clearly writing to the individual involved rather than the firm, since you’re using the singular of each. That begs the question: if you’re writing to an individual, you probably know who that is. So why now actually address them?

Views, contrasting views, confusion and more ~ and that takes back to writing what you generally are comfortable, the formal way !

With regards – S.  Sampathkumar
14th May 2017.

PS : the one at the start is the logo of Cores  that specialized in Typewriter ribbons, carbons and more. 

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