Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel at www.news-sentinel.com
Q. Karen, my husband and I receive mail regularly addressed with only our first and last names on the envelope. For instance, “John and Mary Smith.” Whatever happened to addressing mail using Mr. and/or Mrs.?
A. As youngsters we should have learned the proper way to address envelopes, set up a letter, and sign our name and the kind of salutation to use. All of these things are still important today. Some of the rules have changed, but there is well-defined etiquette for all of our communication and correspondence.
The next time you retrieve your mail, look at it carefully and notice what captures your attention and why. The mail you send and receive says a great deal about you. Much like the person answering your telephone, your mail can be the first impression one gets of you or your company.
Many people sort their mail close to a waste can. Some things go in it without ever being looked at or opened. The outside of an envelope can usually tell us if the item is something that is important, requiring further attention. Envelopes that are hand-addressed say that someone took more time or it is something special, such as an invitation, announcement, greeting, or note or letter.
Here is a list of ways to distinguish yourself and your company with the mail you send:
•Address all outgoing mail with honorifics — for instance, Ms. Jane Smith, Mr. Richard Jones instead of Jane Smith or Smith, Jane.
•Salutations should reflect the makeup of the company. A letter addressed “Dear Sir,” “Gentlemen” or “Ladies” would not work in most companies today. “Ladies and Gentlemen” or “Gentlemen and Ladies” would be better unless it is an all-male or all-female organization. Addressing a letter to a company by name or a particular department is appropriate but not as formal. Use individual names whenever possible.
•Handwritten thank-you notes are appropriate and recommended after being taken to lunch or dinner, after an interview, when you receive a gift, or any other time someone extends himself or herself for you. Correspondence notecards are handy to have on hand. Plain or personalized with your name or the company's name will make a favorable impression.
•Business stationery should be of good-quality paper and reflect the kind of work a company does. White or off-white stock, printed in black, is traditional and professional. Business letters should be typed, but it is appropriate to hand address a business envelope.
•Creative and artistic fields allow for more expression in stationery and business cards.
•Have updated reference books available for office and staff. This helps with questions that arise.
•Keep information updated on letterheads. Make printing large enough to read without a magnifying glass.
Evaluating your office stationery and paying attention to how mail leaves your company or office can make the difference in what is communicated to the public. Establish guidelines that everyone follows.
Is your company's mail sending the right message or does it look like a bulk mail piece going to “occupant”?