3 Ways to Adapt Your Military Communication Style to Civilian Work and Why It Matters


Growing up, perhaps someone told you “It’s not only what you say, but how you say it that matters.” Then you enter the military, where efficiency and urgency of communication can be more important than how the message is framed and presented.

And now you’re back in the civilian sector, which is admittedly highly experiential. Not only do companies care about results, gain, growth and positioning, but the way in which those are achieved matter as much as what is gained.

Given this, if a message is not presented correctly and framed to meet company culture guidelines, it can be received incorrectly and be misunderstood.

Imagine you want to let your corporate team know that an important project’s deadline has been moved up by three weeks. You know this news will alarm them and cause them stress, but the quicker they get to work, the faster the project will be complete.

You draft an email communication and state, “Project deadline moved up three weeks. We all must embrace the suck and do what it takes to get this completed on time. I’ll see you all in the office on Saturday.”

Yes, this communication is clear and accurate. Yes, you have clearly stated your expectations. And, yes, it’s likely that many on your team will feel hurt and upset by the harshness of the way the message is communicated. Is there a better way to communicate what you need without missing the emotional qualities of your team? Certainly.

To ensure your message is received clearly, follow these tips:

1. Resist the Urge to Be Too Blunt.

Candor is appreciated; direction can feel sharp. In the example above, your message may be technically accurate, but it lacks the emotional components that build trust and enlist others to support you. Showing empathy and understanding would be helpful.

Instead, you could phrase your message as, “Hi, team — I appreciate how hard everyone has been working on the XYZ project, and I was just notified that the deadline has been moved up three weeks. I’m sure this news comes.” As a surprise; it did to me, too. I’ll do all I can to ensure we don’t have to work all weekend, each weekend, but know that it’s a possibility. to answer any questions you have. Communication like this lets your team know that you understand the impact of the news on their lives and are committing to work as hard as you’ll ask them to.

You’re also opening the door for them to share their feelings about this news with you directly. This type of communication style is widely embraced in the private sector for its ability to be empathetic, authentic and to build trust.

2. Consider the Communication Vehicle.

If you must give hard feedback to someone or deliver a sensitive message, consider whether that news is best delivered first in person or by phone and later followed up with an email (if you need to document the conversation).

While it might be more efficient to just email the information, you can ensure more relationship-building if you deliver the message with the added of body language and vocal tonality, rather than leave the benefits open that the tone of your email is misinterpreted.

3. Acknowledge the Feelings of Others.

It’s important when communicating that the other person feels validated, that their position or concerns are heard. You may not pivot your message, but ensuring they feel heard can go a long way to creating trust and buy-in. Conflict negotiators use a technique called Feel-Felt-Found. It works like this: When someone responds to your message by getting upset or angry, instead of fighting them or getting defensive, you’d say, “I understand how you feel. I’m sure others have felt the same way. , “I’ve felt the same way.”) “Here’s what I’ve found. …”

By acknowledging their feelings (regardless of how legitimate you believe they are) and then moving the conversation toward a productive place, you acknowledge their feelings.

When time is critical, and information has to travel in the most efficient and concise way (such as on the battlefield or in the emergency room), it’s understood that these more sensitive communication tactics are not warranted.

For most of us, our work doesn’t have those critical, time-sensitive parameters. Communicating what we need to in ways that build trust, earn credibility and respect, and empower others is a desired leadership skill to strive for.

The author of “Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and “Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition” (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assists employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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