Veterans often need to adjust communications style when re-entering civilian workforce

Marie McIntyre.
Marie McIntyre.

Q: After leaving the military, I accepted a supervisory position in a large corporation. I thought everything was going well until my boss told me that people say I’m “too gruff” and I embarrass them in public. He cited the example of my telling another supervisor that he was doing a poor job of updating records and needed to get it fixed ASAP.

Because of my military training, I do tend to be somewhat directive when dealing with problems, but I have no desire to humiliate anyone. None of the people who complained has ever spoken to me about this directly. Since most of them are buddies who work out with my boss at the gym, I’m wondering if favoritism could be involved.

A: Actually, your dilemma is not at all unusual. While the military is a superb training ground for many things, veterans often face an adjustment period in organizations where the culture is less hierarchical and communication is less direct. To make a successful transition, they must learn to adapt to different expectations.

For example, a less demanding approach would have been more appropriate with the supervisor who was behind in his record-keeping. From your viewpoint, you were simply addressing an obvious problem. But your colleague felt you were giving him orders, which is not how one typically communicates with peers in a business setting.

Instead of finding reasons to discredit this feedback, talk with your boss or a helpful mentor about ways to modify your communication style. If you know other veterans who have navigated this territory, see if they have some helpful tips. Of course, transition issues are hardly limited to the military, since people who switch sectors or industries often have similar experiences.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.