Sunday, September 09, 2018

Call me by my name

Occasionally when readers or others write to me, they refer to me as "Dr. Seglin." I typically respond to readers when they email me with questions or positive or negative thoughts on something I've written. But I'm often torn about whether to correct them about addressing me as "Dr.," since I am not a doctor.

My hesitancy is because I don't want them to feel embarrassed about the mistake. My guess is that they think I might be a doctor because I teach at a college. (It certainly has nothing to do with any perception about my ability to heal.) But I also don't want to let the error go uncorrected and give off the perception that I'm laying claim to a title I have no right to claim.

While my alma mater might feel comfortable addressing its correspondence to me as "Dr. Seglin" because of an honorary degree it was kind enough to award me, it's the only place that feels compelled to do so. At best, I'm an "Honorary Dr."

I was reminded of this after receiving a note from a reader -- let's call him Otto -- who recently received an invitation to participate in an industry conference. Those who invited Otto referenced his credentials as a variety of things in their invitation, some of which he has never claimed to be.

Otto is inclined to want to accept the invitation to participate, but he is wrestling with whether to take the time to correct those who invited him when he responds.

"I could just accept the invitation," Otto writes. "But if I do without correcting them, am I misleading them?" He also wonders if they might rescind the invitation if they find out that he is not exactly what they might have thought he was when they invited him.

"If I accept now, then I could correct them prior to the conference," he writes, wondering what the right thing to do is.

Otto's motivation shouldn't be to correct the inviters only if he knows the invitation won't be rescinded once they discover the error. Hiding that he is not who they think he is to get to the conference would be dishonest.

The right thing for Otto to do, regardless of his reasoning, would be to include a clarification in his response to the inviters. They likely will appreciate the response and it will also ensure that he is not incorrectly listed in any materials that are distributed to other attendees.

If he doesn't correct the inviters and his name appears with the wrong credentials, he also runs the risk of being perceived as someone who claims to be that which he is not. But the main reason he should correct the inviters is that the information about him is wrong and he knows it, just as I know and now you do too that I am not a real doctor.

I encourage each of you to write me whenever you'd like with questions about any ethical dilemmas or conundrums you may be facing, but please call me Jeffrey. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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