Please Call Me Linda
by Linda Tobia
MLT Career Prep Coach Linda Tobia shares why she believes using first names makes an important difference in confidence and workplace culture—even for early career professionals.
Linda Tobia (seated) with Career Prep Fellows.
In different countries and even in different regions around the United States, the norms for how to address another person vary. In the tech culture of Silicon Valley, where I’ve spent my adult working life, addressing people by their first names— without a title or prefix—is the norm. When you are interacting with me within my cultural “zone,” I prefer 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 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. Using first names, regardless of position, sets a tone that every person is a valuable contributor to the company and establishes that every person has creative ideas that are worth hearing. I was fortunate enough to work at Hewlett-Packard (HP) 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 me 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.
Consistently do what you say you will do.
Actively listen to and acknowledge different opinions and ideas, even if you do not agree.
Acknowledge another person’s feelings as valid, even if you do not understand the feelings.
Use 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.
This blog was originally published on Linda’s blog and is being redistributed with permission. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Linda Tobia is a Coach in MLT’s Career Prep program. She has 30 years of experience as an engineer and technical leader in the tech industry. Linda holds a BS in Computer Science from California State University, Sacramento and an Integral Coaching Certification. She lives in Auburn, California and loves trail running, hiking, and photography.