I had a session with professors/teachers recently, and we were talking on culture and communication.
In one of the exercises they had to interpret behavior and respond to situations accordingly. One such situation was; your student sends you an email addressing you as “Hi Dr Murthy”….
I was surprised at the reaction of teachers. One and all felt that it wasn’t formal enough.
In today’s business scenario, addressing anyone with “Hi” is not considered rude or informal. However, almost of the teachers felt that it wasn’t correct, and some were indignant!
So, what is the correct/ acceptable form of salutation?
Dear Mrs. Murthy
Respected madam Lalitha
Dear Lalitha Murthy
In many western cultures addressing someone as ‘Dear’ is perfectly formal and correct thing to do.; especially when you don’t know/haven’t met or spoken to that person. Based on their reply, you could address them as Hi or even with no other salutation except their name.
In hierarchical societies like India, we teach our children to say ‘Respected sir/madam’, Madamji etc. this is perfectly fine if you are addressing an Indian living/working in India. However, in a global scenario, this may not be understood. Many may feel that an overt expression of respect is not needed. Addressing someone as ‘Dear …’is well received.
Imagine a scenario when you are writing to a person whose gender is clear from his name. For example, the name Kiran or Madhu is generally the name of a girl in North India. In the south, many boys are named ‘Kiran/ Madhu. If you are writing to Madhu Rao, it could be a male and addressing the person as
“Dear Ms. Rao” could lead to embarrassment all round! In such cases it is better to address the person as “Dear Madhu Rao”… Writing the complete name saves embarrassment when the gender of the person is not known.
In the second/ third email, you could always take a cue from the reply and address the person as he/she has addressed you.
In India ‘Thanks and regards ‘has become the accepted form of signature. However, you cannot close a complaint mail with ‘Thanks and regards’! that is likely to sound cheeky!
The different forms of signature are
Yours sincerely (very formal)
Best (now used internationally)
And of course ‘Thanks and regards’ if appropriate
We need to understand the cultural preferences of the addressee before we send the email. In egalitarian cultures Hi, Dear and even no specific salutation may be accepted. In hierarchical cultures it will be better to stick to Dear …. If your email is to be well received.
Wisdom lies in understanding your relationship with the person you are writing to, his cultural exposure/ preference, and of course the purpose of your email.