Why It Pays to Speak Candidly to Your Veteran Employees


As did many of you, my adult career took place within a business culture that encouraged professionalism and respect. And as a woman, I was taught to speak politely and compassionately. This communication style is common in the civilian workplace.

Contrast this with how individuals learn to communicate during their time in the military: succinctly, directly and with the utmost candor. In the military, efficiency is critical to ensuring a mission's success and the safety of everyone involved. There cannot be any room for interpretation when giving mission-critical instructions or orders.

For many military veterans, the challenge when reintegrating to a civilian career starts with the differences in communication style and narrative. As an employer, here are several tips for bridging the communication gap and create better success with your veteran employees:

1. Speak Candidly

One of the greatest things about working with military talent is that they can handle hearing the honest truth. In coaching and mentoring sessions, or when presenting, I will ask, "Can I be direct?" before offering feedback or input. (Remember, I was raised to be polite.) They will always respond with, "Yes, please!"

In my experience, veterans in the workplace appreciate candor. They value the direct form of communication when outlining objectives, offering input, having difficult conversations and setting expectations. Candor represents efficiency and respect, particularly when it is consistently offered by people they trust.

2. Eliminate Mystery

Remove all guesswork, assumption and mystery from your motives, goals and instructions by being candid and clear. Veterans want to succeed at their job, just as any employee would. When instructions and goals aren't clear, the employee isn't set up for success.

When communicating with your veteran employees, start by explaining the big-picture vision of the project (the "why") and then clarify and articulate the individual milestones (the "what" and "how") you expect to see. This empowers the veteran to succeed.

3. Remember: Their Skin is Thick

Those of us raised in the civilian environment might be accustomed to corporate speak inclusivity, and team building, and it could be argued some of us are highly sensitive. We appreciate receiving feedback wrapped in warm blankets of compliments and praise.

In my experience, military veterans have a thick skin when it comes to taking constructive criticism and feedback. As an employer, when you come from a place of respectfulness, being direct and to the point is appreciated by your veteran employees. They seek to improve and rise to meet your expectations.

4. Encourage Questioning

While the military certainly doesn't refuse questioning, there is a strong value in self-sufficiency that might discourage service members from showing vulnerability by asking for help.

Contrast this with the collaborative nature of most civilian workplaces. If it is important for your employees to share ideas, work together as high-performing teams and ask for help, then clarify this directly with your veteran employees. Offer specific examples of when they should seek guidance or mentoring. When offering feedback, ask them to clarify that they heard what you offered and be patient for the response. Questioning is a healthy way to demonstrate leadership and build strong teams.

Speaking candidly might require practice if you, like me, were taught to speak in a more indirect manner so as not to hurt someone's feelings. The goal of candid communications is to be succinct and efficient, clarifying goals and offering helpful feedback.

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