Using names and titles – Business English do’s and don’ts

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When you work in a multicultural setting it’s always tricky to know how to address your new business partners. Employees in Germany tend to use titles and surnames to address each other: ‘Guten Tag Herr Schmidt’. In British and American organisations it’s much more common to use first names. This doesn’t mean that you are showing your partner less respect, and it also doesn’t mean that you’re crossing a line between professional and personal relationships. It’s just a way of building better business relationships. Let your business partner know you’re happy to use first names by saying something like this: ‘Nice to meet you Mr Johnson, call me Jürgen’. If you’re unsure how to address him or her you can try ‘My name’s Jürgen, what would you like me to call you?’

If you prefer to keep to surnames then choosing the correct title to address people is also important, especially with female business partners. In general it’s best to address female counterparts as ‘Ms’ – this is the form to use when you don’t know their marital status, like ‘Frau’ in Germany.

Useful language:

  • Multicultural setting – multikulturelles Umfeld
  • Tricky – knifflig
  • To address someone – jemanden ansprechen
  • Surnames – Nachnamen
  • More common – häufiger
  • To cross a line – die Grenze überschreiten
  • To build business relationships – Beziehungen aufbauen
  • Prefer – bevorzügen
  • Counterparts – Kollege, Geschäftspartner
  • Marital status – Familienstand

Practice the useful language here

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