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Communication in the Civilian Workplace

Business group meeting.

Most members of the military will never forget the "reprimands" given to them by their instructors during basic training.  It doesn't matter whether you called them Drill Instructors or Drill Sergeants, these guides gave you your first taste of communication military style and looking back on it can be quite hilarious if it were not so frightening at the time.  It can be quick, to the point, and very often harsh.  Yet, even within the military you expect this communication to shift once you have transitioned from a fresh "boot" to a salty a veteran.  And so it is when you transition from the military to the civilian workforce.  Your communication style must likely change and those who fail to do so will be in for a challenging road on the other side of the uniform.

Understand Your Co-workers

This might come as a surprise to you, but most people have never been yelled at by a Drill Instructor.  They have never faced a reprimand from a grizzled Sergeant Major and they most certainly have never been yelled at while bullets are flying overhead.  So the first thing you need to realize when communicating with your new civilian co-workers is just how unique your experience can be to them.  Just because you think you are toning down the communication to levels below what was described above doesn't mean that it is still at a level to which they will be accustomed.

The truth is, executives, managers, and consultants alike will spend countless hours and millions of dollars attempting to learn the art of effective communication.  Words can be powerful creatures and the most influential have realized that the can be used with great effectiveness or great calamity.  And the transitioning military member is not immune to the potential pitfall. 

While there is countless literature available on the art of communication, a helpful start would be to spend a little more time listening to others rather than quickly responding out of emotion.  If you find yourself struggling with appropriate responses to difficult workplace conversations, make it a practice to pause a few seconds after the other is done talking.  This gives you time to formulate your response in light of what they actually said rather than trying to formulate it in your head as they are speaking.  

Understand Your Role as Boss

If you should find yourself in a managerial role early on in your civilian career, the communication style will never be more important.  You might be accustomed to harsh reprimands, but your civilian employees likely are not.  They were not trained to maintain military bearing in the face of a good rear-end chewing and their emotional response will likely only elevate yours.  Rather it is time to flip the script in the civilian sector as it is now the manager's responsibility to maintain their bearing during a crucial conversation.

Employees in the civilian sector expect to be listened to and heard.  In fact, to be genuinely listened to is such a striking experience because it is such a rare event in life.  When you dismiss the military notion that they are here to be told what to do and rather impute upon them the excellence they wish for themselves, you will gain a greater influence over their actions and have arrived at the heart of leadership in the civilian sector. 

The military leadership can command obedience, but the civilian manager must influence others to action.  And if you think about it, the most effective military leaders you respected most probably used more subtle influence and respect than you realized.  It is ok to turn it down a notch, slow down, and listen.  For when you do, the most powerful effective words you can say as a manager will often naturally develop.

For more information, contact our partners at HOH.

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