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Soft Skills 101 for Military

By University Alliance
Soft Skills 101 for Military

The banter of a Drill Instructor directed at new recruits is designed to develop a thick skin in military personnel – a necessary part of the military's cultural management.  While this works well for those in the military environment, that same “tough skin” can cause challenges when veterans enter the private sector, a work environment with a totally different cultural psychology.  While soft skills are not a primary focus in the military, a veteran recently separated can certainly make the necessary adjustments if given the tools.

Not Our Grandfather’s Military

The military of a few decades ago was peppered with a lack of generational and cultural sensitivity that was designed to  develop the cultural psychology necessary to make it through the hardships of war.  In times since, the military has come a long way with cultural management and has begun to stress the importance of sensitivity and inclusion.  Even with those changes in attitude and social norms, there is still a large gap between the bunks in basic to the cubicles in the civilian sector for those veterans who are transitioning into the private sector.  A lack of soft skills, those not usually a focus in basic training, can put veterans at a disadvantage when faced with the intricacies of office politics. 

A Minefield Of Cultural Sensitivities

Arguably, most private sector offices could do with more thick skin that are normally present.  People working on teams coming in with their own paradigms, motivations and values can make just getting along a challenge.  Though there may be a need for more thick skin in the private sector, that doesn't mean that it will be so.  Veterans transitioning to the private sector should be prepared to adjust their behavior to their new work environment.

Adjusting means observing carefully the social norms and generational differences of their coworkers.  While some off-color jokes and teasing might be acceptable in military circles, the same behavior may cause a reprimand, suspension or dismissal from a job in the private sector.  In this case, what is not said may be a more powerful protection for a veteran in private sector work than a flight jacket.  Observation and adaption are the keys to a smooth transition into business. 

A Different Kind Of Team

Another area that may require adjustment is the basic definition of “team.”  While the business world does have teams, they don't operate with the same level of dedication that those same teams in the military do.  The gap between the definition of “team” and the behavior of team members who are simply trying to either get through the day or move their own career forward may not be what a veteran is used to.  For a veteran who is steeped in the cultural psychology of the military with their mission-driven tasks and policies, the focus on individual needs and rights may be startling.  Understanding that the most critical tasks in business may not agree with what is critical in the military will help veterans adjust to their new organizational culture.

Cultural Differences Protected In The Workplace

In the private sector, protection of those in regard to their particular race, creed or religious beliefs in the private sector are held in high regard – even more so than in the military.  For veterans who are used to the culture of the military, some adjustments might be necessary.  Generational difference and gender bias have been a problem for the military in recent years, yet these issues have largely been dealt with by the private sector in years past.  Veterans should watch that they operate in a way that is blind to differences between people to protect themselves in the workforce.  Treating everyone equally is the best way to avoid conflict.

In The End

The work environment differences between the military and the private sector can be staggering at times.  For veterans who are transitioning to the private sector, knowing that cultural sensitivity is the norm in the private sector and taking an attitude of observation and adjustment will go a long way to helping them to develop their soft skills. 

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Category: Intercultural Management