It’s well known that the military fosters a more direct, brief and succinct communication style for obvious reasons. Civilian culture, on the other hand, enjoys more verbosity, less directness and yet also appreciates candor.
How do you blend the two styles and ensure your communication is received well by civilians?
When we speak in person, even on video, we have body language to add to the context and offer signals about what you mean to say. Your facial expressions, tonality and the words you speak all tell us about your message and whether we should trust you, endorse your message or become skeptical.
Here are some tips for navigating in person communication:
Ensure consistent body language.
When speaking to someone, look them in the eyes, even on a video call. Eye contact is a powerful trust builder. Watch head tilts (to the side), as they might infer submissiveness on your part.
Also watch that your head isn’t going side to side as you’re offering an affirmative answer. A disconnect between what we see and what you say will make us doubt your words.
An in-person message doesn’t have to be barked out like a military order. Take the time to share your message, wait for a response and then continue. This also builds collaboration as the other person feels part of the conversation.
Use “feeling” words.
When offering your opinion or viewpoint, personalize the message. In fact, it can be advised to say how the idea supports your own experience or views. This humanizes your communication, as well as you, to the recipient.
By all accounts, email is tricky: We know what we meant to say, how we intended to communicate the idea or opinion or challenge, but without body language and vocal tonality to add to the communication experience, messages can get misunderstood.
Some of the following tips are directly fed to me by employers; others are my personal pet peeves as a reputation management expert:
Whenever possible, never, ever, ever start an email with “hey.” It’s too informal, almost slang, and as my mother used to say, “Hay is for horses.” Instead, opt for a more welcoming “hi” or “hello” to open an email.
Use the language they use.
If you’ve corresponded with someone and they use informal language in their reply, match them. If you continue to address them in military-style tone and language, it could be seen as off-putting to the recipient.
Address them the way they want.
If I sign my email “Lida,” then the next time you address me, use Lida. If you continue to address me as Ms. Citroën, then I might feel we’re not in sync.
Similarly, any military lingo, slang or acronyms should be avoided or spelled out. While the person you’re emailing might understand what you mean, if they share the email with someone else, that person might not understand your terminology.
If you find yourself needing to text-message with a client, employer, recruiter or networking colleague, refrain from using overly abbreviated communications. It’s easy to misunderstand when you text “Tx,” as that could mean “thanks,” “text” or “Texas.”
Similarly, if texting a contact to let them know you’re running five minutes late, that’s fine. If you’re texting an update to a proposal or follow-up on a job interview, then also send an email stating the same. Text messages can get buried and lost if not carefully managed.
Communicating with civilians is about ensuring your message is delivered and received in the best way possible. While you might want to be brief and candid, your idea could get lost if that means the message could be seen as cold or upsetting. Consider the person you’re writing to and take cues on the best way to communicate with them.
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 assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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