The Etiquette of Knowing a Person Behind Their Job

Photo provided by Global Adjustments

“We tend to refer to people by the jobs they do rather than their names. This can be disrespectful, especially lower down the professional order.”

This article was inspired by my dear friend and colleague Ranjini Manian, founder of Global Adjustments, in India.

Ranjini’s article tells about an intern named Max who when asked to run an errand to deliver an important letter, Ranjini realized a great lesson…

Ranjini: “Yes, please, Max, do that. My driver will take you there, and you can try to speak to the Executive Assistant,” I added helpfully.

“Your driver?” said Max, stopping in his tracks. “You mean Rajan?… He is a person.”

Ranjini:  “Yes, of course, you’re right, Rajan will take you,” I said hastily. And it made me think of the disconnect between what we profess and what we do in India.

We profess to have unity in diversity.
We profess to see oneness in all.
We profess to speak with respect.

Yet, every now and then, we are apt to forget the person and simply look at the job he or she is doing.

For the longest time I had been battling to establish the identity of the garbage collector who comes to my home on his rounds in the neighbourhood. People would say to each other at home, “Kupai-karan is here” which translates as “garbage man” or “kachada-wallah”. I would think, this man has a name given to him by his parents which defines him and is something he is proud of. Calling him by his name rather than referring to the “duty” he does would be respectful of his sensitivities. We found out he was called Ravi, and referred to him by name in due course.

But while talking to Max, I realised to my discomfiture that I had fallen into the trap of referring to a person by his “job description” rather than his actual name.”

Ranjini continues on to describe how Americans often address people by Sir, Madam, or Ma’am as a sign of respect.  We also use titles such as Mr. Ms, Mrs., Doctor or Boss in the same way.  Yet at times we also use titles and words “to reduce a person to a role that is perceived as being of a lower order,” Ranjini states.  This is so true, especially when calling someone using words such as, “Boy” or Waiter in a demeaning way.

“Guard, I am expecting a visitor, please let the car in”; “Watchman, where can I park?” — such references are common in, say, a big apartment complex where such jobs are usually manned by a shifting population of employees and we don’t take the time to find out their names.

Let’s remember this as we go around in our hi-tech cities, software parks, amazing airports and malls, and come face-to-face with the people who clean the restrooms, the people who serve the coffee, the personnel directing traffic in the car parks, and the many ‘nameless’ others who keep the system running on well-oiled wheels.

When we address a person by his or her given name, we’re affirming her identity. And when we take the trouble to get the pronunciation and spelling correct, as well as any honorific that may go with the name, we’re offering due respect to the individual. Not to do so is unforgivable, because we’re showing we don’t value the person’s individuality and identity.

So, whether we’re referring to the famous few or the many men-in-the street, let’s remember that no one is faceless or nameless. Each of us is an individual, unique and special, irrespective of our status in the social pecking order. We each come with a bit of the divine in us!

Max gave me a timely reminder, and hey, I recommit to living in awareness of this good habit. What about you, new managers?”


This article was first seen in both The Hindu Business Line and also published in the Global Adjustment’s blog where you can view the full original article.

Copyright 2011.  Article excerpts were printed with permission from Ranjini Manian and Global Adjustments to Syndi Seid and Advanced Etiquette.  All rights reserved.

CONCLUSION: May this message be a reminder to us all… it sure was to me.    It isn’t enough to remember a person’s job, title or role, but to also know who they are as a person by name.  This is truly the “key to success” in achieving a great quality of life.

As much as I love people saying, “Oh, yes, she’s that etiquette lady,” I love it best when they also know my name, Syndi Seid… even when they may mispronounce it… at least they’re getting there!

Happy Practicing!

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2 Responses to "The Etiquette of Knowing a Person Behind Their Job"

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