In different countries and even in different regions around the US, the norms for how to address another person vary. In the tech culture of Silicon Valley where I spent my adult working life, addressing people by their first names without a title is the norm. When you are interacting with me within my cultural “zone” I want to be called Linda. When I’m in a different country or cultural zone of the US, I will adapt to those norms as gracefully as I can.
I feel strongly about the addressing other adults (regardless of age) on a first name basis because I feel it sends a message of equality. This can be particularly powerful in the workplace. By using first names regardless of position, it sets a tone that every person is a valuable contributor to the company and every person has creative ideas that are worth hearing. I was lucky enough to work at Hewlett-Packard for most of my career, one of the ground-breaking tech companies that instituted a first name culture when the company was founded in 1939. At the time, it was a huge break from a traditional US company. I felt I had a voice at HP as a young engineer. And I felt comfortable using my voice to offer an idea or two directly to my division manager, even in the early days of my career.
Other people may feel strongly that addressing someone by their first name is not showing respect. So if I have asked you not to call Ms. Tobia, how can you show your respect? There are many powerful ways to demonstrate respect to another human being, particularly through meaningful actions. Some respectful actions to consider:
Be on time to meetings. This is respectful of the other person’s time and subtly indicates their level of importance and value.
Listen deeply when in a conversation, without interrupting or spending your energy thinking about your response rather than listening.
Do what you say you will do consistently.
Acknowledge another person’s opinions and ideas, even if you do not agree.
Acknowledge another person’s feelings as valid, even if you do not understand the feelings.
Words of appreciation, even a simple please or thank you.
So I invite you to respectfully call me Linda and I hope you will invite me to call you by your first name as well. I will do my best to show you respect through my actions and value you as an equal.