Is the “you” slowly dying out??

Is the 'you' slowly dying out??

Symbol image business people on their way to work © Artens (shutterstock)

What is more suitable? More like the "you"? Or perhaps it would be better to call him "you? In the workplace, many companies now use the first person form of address. The more personal form of address is also intended to help break down rigid hierarchies.

Nicole Susann Ranke has been advising people in crises, conflicts and difficult life situations for more than 30 years. For a long time, the form of address between her and those seeking advice was usually clearly defined: "I used to call my clients by their first name during conversations," says the life coach from Waltrop in Westphalia.

She usually answered the question about the "you" in the negative. In the meantime, this has changed. In her videos, on the website and in consulting, clients are ducked. "It's just trendy because of the new media," she says. She also finds this address "much more personal" today.

The triumph of the "you"

She has not been alone in her assessment for a long time now. The triumph of the "you" seems almost unstoppable: In the social media, on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, addressing people directly with "Du" has long been the rule anyway, furniture stores solicit customers with the familiar form of address, and even in some sports stores no one is addressed with "Sie" anymore, regardless of age. Four years ago, Hans-Otto Schrader, then Chairman of the Executive Board at Otto, offered all his employees the "Du" form of address. You should call him "Hos", for Hans-Otto.

According to the career network Xing, there is also a "cultural change that goes on and on" behind such offers, as a spokesperson explains. About two months ago, the operators of the network decided to address their users exclusively with "Du" in the future.

Between hierarchy and closeness

Management member Sabrina Zeplin brought out the heavy argumentative guns as justification: "The 'you' stands for a hierarchical way of thinking and working, with which we at Xing can no longer identify," she wrote in a statement. "The 'Du' creates closeness and an emotional bond that also leads to significantly better cooperation in a professional environment."

Sven Muller, a researcher at the German Language Society in Wiesbaden, explains the debate about "Duzen" and "Siezen" from a linguistic perspective. "The 'Du' expresses closeness and familiarity, while the 'Sie' is the polite, distant form of address," he explains. His institute is also currently observing and reporting that the use of "Du" is on the rise in society. In his view, however, the linguistic basis that "Du" and "Sie" express closeness and distance remains unchanged; it is rather the social interaction at the workplace that changes.

The "you" in the workplace is slowly dying out

In the workplace, the 'you' is slowly dying out – this trend is clearly discernible," says Inga Rottlander, career expert at the online job agency Stepstone. In a Stepstone study in 2016, only three percent of respondents said that all employees at their workplace were on first-name terms. Particularly in small companies, the way of dealing is very informal. "In companies with fewer than 50 employees, half say they are on first name terms with all their colleagues – from interns to managing directors," Rottlander explains.

In her view, "the departure from the 'you' is not simply an expression of the zeitgeist". Rather, it is linked to the changed working world, in which rigid hierarchies often hinder efficient work. But she points out that the "Duz culture" alone will not lead to more effective structures, "if in the end every decision has to be made by management".

Xing argues along the same lines: "We know pretty well that the 'you' has all but died out in 76 percent of all German-speaking companies," writes Zeplin. Well over half of Xing members felt that "you" was correct and appropriate, only 15 percent would prefer to stick with "you". This is the result of a survey.

Partial headwind for being on first-name terms

However, after the decision, the network received not only a lot of positive feedback, but also some headwind. One user described "unilaterally imposed form of address" as "encroaching", for others the 'Sie' is "a question of decency and etiquette" towards strangers.
Because if the relationship between dozens of colleagues changes or even deteriorates, the supposedly more familiar form of address stands in the way of problem-solving.

The German dictionary Duden is almost unimpressed by the whole discussion and advises: "In principle, however, the correct form of address in business life or with new contacts is 'Sie', and especially in a professional environment this maintains a necessary and quite useful distance."It is quite possible that people feel harassed or disrespected when they are addressed without being asked.

Nicole Susann Ranke now sees things differently in her working world. In her experience today, the "you" simply creates a familiar relationship with her clients, which facilitates personal conversations and intensive counseling.

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