Don’t Demote Yourself in the Office

It was when I called my naval officer father by his first name that he told me I was “bordering on insubordination.” No joke. I wanted to laugh, but even at age 13, I wasn’t that stupid.

With my upbringing as a Navy brat, not surprisingly, I entered the work force with as much fear of corporate brass as anyone.

At my first job, the new trainees worked mostly with the recent MBA’s. They were pretty approachable, so all was cool. But eventually, I was put on a project with a senior officer. One of my office mates, Garrett, arrived at the company just a year before me but had already figured out the lay of the land. I rushed into his cubical before I had to meet with the senior officer.

I asked Garret, “What do I call him? Mr. Evans? Sir?”

“No,” he responded. “You call all 3000 people at this firm by their first name, including the CEO.”

“No way. I can’t”

“What do you mean, you can’t?”

“It’s disrespectful.”

“What? You’re crazy! In fact, you call him ‘Mr. Evans, and he’ll undervalue you right away. You need to make him realize you are a professional, a colleague, an equal…well, sort of. And for God’s sake, don’t call him ‘Sir.’ You’ll make him feel old and then he definitely won’t want to work with you!”


“Yes, Ms. Tierney, now get your butt into his office.”

And I did. Garrett’s words resonated with me for the next several years. Will I look obviously “junior” if I act a certain way? I always thought about it.

You should too.