Saturday, November 20, 2010

Please don't call me "kiddo."

As some of you might know, one of my pet peeves is being "ma'amed." Quite frankly, it makes me feel ancient, especially if said ma'amer is a well-meaning teenage bagger at the Whole Foods checkout. I know it's polite, and I'd certainly rather be ma'amed than called, "Hey, lady." I also know that in certain environments, the usage of ma'am is quite common (the South), or even required (the military). Still, for whatever reason, I feel like ma'am is a title that should be reserved for little old ladies.

At the complete other end of the spectrum, I can't stand being called "kiddo" (though I will confess that I get a secret thrill when I'm carded by bartenders). And, believe it or not, it happens on a frequent basis, hence this blog post. My dislike of the term stems from a former manager who used to call me kiddo, as in, "Great job, kiddo. Keep me posted." I often left meetings feeling as though he'd ruffled my hair with the palm of his hand. While I think my manager meant to be nice, his use of kiddo did not make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Why not, you ask? Answer: I am not a kid. I am in my mid-thirties (Gulp. I almost typed "early thirties," but let's call a spade a spade here: I'll be 35 in a few months). I carry myself like an adult, because I am one. I run a department at a respected company. I'm well-educated and have a good head on my shoulders. I'm married, own a house, and I'm a mom. What on earth about any of those things says "kiddo"?

Yes, this manager was older than me, and I was one of the younger managers at the company, but why should that give him license to call me a kid? When I sat down and thought about why exactly I was so perturbed, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I found his comment disrespectful. While often very funny and charming, kids are not always responsible, and you sometimes take what they say with a grain of salt. (Case in point: my almost-two year old doesn't always pick up after herself, and she thinks every day is her birthday.) And most importantly, you certainly don't trust kids to make important decisions or entrust them with valuable information. This manager, perhaps without even realizing it, was making me feel as though what I could contribute to the company didn't matter. I wish I had taken the initiative to speak up and say, "Please don't call me kiddo," but I never worked up the nerve.

Like it or not, we live and work in a multi-generational world. Our coworkers may be much younger or much older than we are, and we all bring unique things to the workplace: tech-savviness, operational expertise, different managerial styles. The generational mix helps make a good company both stable and cutting-edge, and everyone, no matter what their age, should be treated as an equal.

Please, for the sake of building a high-performing team, don't call your coworkers and/or customers kiddo, sweetheart, honey, or any other term of endearment that you'd normally reserve for a family member or pet. (And may I respectfully suggest that you not call anyone under the age of 75 "ma'am." Unless, of course, you're from the South, are in the military, or work at Whole Foods.)