It is remarkable to consider that such a remarkably small percentage of the American population have ever served in the military. In previous generations where the draft was present, a broader section of society experienced the sacrifice of serving. However, as the Vietnam generation ages, more and more civilian leadership is consisting of those with no such experience. Consequently, as the modern generation of veterans exit the military, they are likely to find themselves working for a boss who simply doesn't understand them. Yet, this doesn't have to be a recipe for conflict. It can be an opportunity to educate, understand, and thrive in the civilian workplace.
Take it Easy
First and foremost, don't take it out on management if they have never served in the military. If everyone served, then the military would not be the elite force that it is today. In fact, part of what makes you proud of your service is that you recognize what a rare thing it is in modern society. But that means a lot will have never put on the uniform and one of those such people just might be your boss. So take it easy and communicate from a position of mutual respect and not condescension.
There are laws and human resources guidelines about how private company treats a person with disability. As a result, if you have any service related disability, you should read up on these policies to understand what rights you may have. However, most veterans are not disabled and that is a myth you might have to dispel to your employer. There is a great amount of public awareness regarding PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury that has led many to thinking most veterans must have it. So don't be offended if this comes out in conversation and just politely explain the reality. And please, for the sake of veterans who might come after you, don't use PTSD as an excuse if you don't have it to justify any unprofessional behavior.
The rest of the communication is more about helping them understand the professional culture in which you were trained. Much of the civilian world doesn't operate with as much bluntness as those in uniform and you might recognize on occasion that you have come across too strong with your choice of words. But don't fret, for a good opportunity for conversation has just opened up. Don't double down on the tough talk and tell them that is just how it is in the military, so take it or leave it. Rather, be clear about where no offense or insubordination was intended. That is the honest answer, so why not use it. Then adapt and learn the language and tone of your new professional culture.
If you were trained to take the initiative, you might want to explain to the boss that you were never attempting to circumvent management or their authority. Rather, the military is trained to prioritize the outcomes and junior members taking initiative is often praised. Don't say it in a condescending manner, but if that is the honest answer then just explain that. Then adapt to the new processes and carry on. The list of differences between civilian and military culture might seem endless, but the answer is typically the same. Just be honest with management about the drivers for your actions and then adapt. Don't take it out on management because they don't understand you. Rather, through educating them about military work habits you might find yourself earning both their respect and appreciation for you. Talking with management about your military service doesn't have to be a conflict. It can be an opportunity for bridge building that will propel you forward in your new career.
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