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I'm having clouds of thought right now on how to address my supervisors. I am a fresh college graduate beginning a career position at Los Angeles County. Having grown up in both the Philippines and Los Angeles, I have been exposed to different cultures of formality and address. On one side, the use of titles and surnames combined with formal etiquette and distance. On the other, the use of first names combined with immediate warmth and friendliness. For now, I will err on the side of caution and call my superiors by their formal work titles and surnames.

Would it be typical to use my supervisor's first name in my new role, or would a more formal title be appropriate?

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  • Add a country tag, just in case there are cultural aspects at play here. Mar 8 at 2:05
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    This is a poll, not an answerable question. I have voted to close.
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 8 at 3:27
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    In modern corporate culture, especially on the west coast, unless they are a doctor or professor, first name/preferred first name is customary. And even then, 20 years ago in college here in Austin, one of my professors, who was a Dr, went by Mary.
    – Austin759
    Mar 8 at 4:00
  • What benefit is for you, alienating your particular supervisor by doing something a supervisor somewhere else wants to hear?
    – puck
    Mar 8 at 5:57
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    @mxyzplk I did hesitate to post my question since it leans heavily on the subjective side. But, I thought it would still fall under the acceptable good- subjective/expertise part of the spectrum. I'll continue to work on my question asking ability as a newbie here :-) But, for this question, my end goal is to gather expert views based on empirical observations and experiences of leaders. I do hope it doesn't amount to just a pick-color-x-or-color-y kind of question :/ Mar 8 at 8:56
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My (mostly US and UK) experience has usually been that first names are used unless there's a major rank difference, or for the owner or a department head, or someone with a particular preference. Listening for how other people address each other often works, and seeing how they sign email to you. And politely asking someone what the correct address form is, should certainly work.

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It really depends on the company.

You should check how other people in this company address you and each other. If HRs were calling you just "Alexander" during the hiring process, it's a good indicator that calling your boss by their first name is fine.

If your boss uses only their first name in their email signatures (e.g. "Best regards, John" instead of "Best regards, Prof. Dr. Dr. John Doe"), this is probably how they prefer to be addressed.

It's usually about the company culture and not about ranks. I'm not that familiar with US culture, but in western Europe it rarely happens that your boss calls you "John" and you call him "Mr. Doe" or "sir". Either everyone is using first names or everyone is addressing each other formally.

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  • For your last paragraph, it can happen that the level of formality strongly depends on the individuals within a company but it almost always stays bilateral. For example everyone refers to the supervisor as Mr Smith and he calls everyone by their last name but everyone else calls each other by first names.
    – quarague
    Mar 8 at 8:50
  • Or, the senior staff members call the supervisor John, the more junior ones Mr Smith, making a conversation between peers kind of funny to listen to :) . But the main part is true: it's a bilateral thing in companies. In Germany at least, a situation where one person uses the first name and the other the last name typically involves children or students, I've never experienced this in a professional environment.
    – Sabine
    Mar 8 at 13:46
  • Mr./Mrs./Miss are very rare in North American workplaces; the exception would be where one party has a title such as Dr or Prof, which is relevant to the workplace. In municipal government, I would likely address the mayor or a councilor by title and surname the first time I met them ("Councilor Smith, thanks for making time for me") but I'd fully expect them to immediately say "Call me Jane" and then to go with that.
    – CCTO
    Mar 8 at 15:10
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Los Angeles County

First name. This is highly dependent on culture and type of business, but LA is kind of the epicenter of the informal "everything goes" "dude" culture.

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We can't tell you, because every workplace has its own unique culture with an own social code of politeness.

But two thing you can do are:

  1. Just ask. Ask your new coworker and the people who introduce you to your new workplace about what etiquette is expected with whom in this workplace.
  2. Observe. See how people are treated in what situation and mimic that behavior. When everyone addresses the boss with their first name, then you can probably do the same.

But when in doubt, it's usually better to err on the side of caution. It's far more excusable when a new person is too polite rather than when they are not polite enough.

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In my experience, calling a manager at work "Mr" because they're your manager, is very old-fashioned indeed.

The only instance I've encountered it was with a non-executive director of a firm, who was by then an elderly man (some decades older than the oldest executive staff) who had status in the broader local community and who had a patrician outlook. The actual managing director was not accorded the same reverence, nor capable (by his character, moral outlook, or community status) of commanding it.

It should also be mentioned that when it was common in a workplace to call colleagues "Mr", it would also have been common for management to also call their peers and subordinates by their title unless they had become close and were relating to one another informally (whereupon peers would use first names mutually, and a manager would refer to subordinates by their first names).

That is, in the past the default form of address was to call all other adults by their title, and to be addressed by first name was a sign of a climbdown into informality between people who knew each other.

If there was a difference in social status, a superior would have first asked a subordinate if they could be called by their first name, though the subordinate may have continued to call the superior by their title.

It would have been presumptuous for a superior to call subordinates by their first names without asking, unless he had already asked to be called by his first name himself (a general practice which some may have indulged or preferred, but which a minority in that era may have found over-familiar).

So unless you are generally being referred to as "Mr" in the workplace, it's generally safe to assume that first names should be used in the modern workplace.

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