Editors Note: As you may notice from some of our other articles, we are very passionate about veterans and veteran’s issues – specifically the transition from military to civilian. When John, a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Army, contacted us about his book we couldn’t be more excited to share it with you. If you are preparing to separate from the military, or have just recently done so, check this book out. If you know someone that is going through this transition, pick it up for him or her and give it as a gift. You never know what might be the difference between a failing transition and a successful one. We hope you enjoy this exclusive excerpt from Boots to Loafers: Finding Your New True North!
. . . Seeking ways to sharpen your communication skills is important and must also include a focus on listening and non-verbal communication. I’ve been to meetings where leaders have a lot to say that truly amounts to nothing more than listening to themselves talk. I walk away wondering what the hell just happened and have no idea what the intent of the meeting was or what was actually communicated…the “corporate tap dance” just occurred. While it can be frustrating as you may have just exited a world where confusing messages can get someone hurt or killed, communicating in the corporate world is generally not going to require a medic. That said, remember that your listening skills and non-verbal language (gestures) are very important as well.
Listening is equally as important as speaking. Let’s use an interview situation as an example. The interviewer will note whether you are making eye contact with him, nodding as a sign of understanding, leaning toward him and not interrupting. These are all positive signs that you are listening. Additionally, if you repeat appropriate information back and answer the question using some of the same references the interviewer made, that gives a clear indication that you were listening.
Of course, there can be communication barriers in various situations. For example, accents, noise, fear, and prejudice, to name a few. Here’s an example that many in the military face whether you’re a career officer or one who has served four years with eight deployments. You’ve landed an interview and the hiring manager is straight out of college and has a very strong accent. Your first thoughts may lead you down a path that says, “Really, a 22-year-old whose communication skills need a little fine-tuning as well is going to decide if I am qualified for the job?” Your body language, attitude, listening skills and responses will make or break this interview. It is extremely important for you to realize that your service to this country, while appreciated and respected by most, maybe not be viewed in the same light that you would prefer. The 22-year-old hiring manager is going to look at what contributions you can make to the job he needs to fill. So, listen carefully and remember that your body language can also deter your success.
Body language is often all about attitude. Using the interview situation again, just remember to enter every situation where you are one step closer to finding a job with a grateful attitude….smile, shake hands, nod, take notes, and maintain eye contact. All of these gestures are language to the person you are communicating with. A brief course in “Presentation Skills” will cover all of these components; speaking, listening, and body language.
At the end of the day, your communication styles can open doors just as easily as it can close them. The military environment, sometimes marked by unpredictable and violent situations, dictates the need for quick, concise, and very direct communication with fellow service members. This method of communication can be difficult to find in the private sector. You will find that the private sector’s more relaxed style of communicating to be confusing. It may also come as a surprise how many people are offended easily. It will add value to your communication efforts to spend time learning about “political correctness” prior to leaving the military. The phrase “political correctness” is defined as: “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.”
Communication is the key to every relationship you will have in your life, including one with co-workers, friends, family, etc. Personally, I continue to learn how to communicate better through each opportunity as I study the situation, understand how the person likes to receive information, and practice before delivering. Driving to an interview or on the way to a big meeting can be your best friend as you practice what you will say, how you will say it, and with what tone and emphasis you will deliver it. I don’t recommend a lot of body language while driving. Save that for in front of a mirror at home!
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This first appeared in The Havok Journal on August 15, 2014.
Marty Skovlund, Jr. is a veteran of the 1st Ranger Battalion and Syracuse Recruiting Battalion, a former small business owner, and the author of Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror (Blackside Publishing) as well as Ranger Knowledge: The Complete Study Guide (St. Martins Press). He is also the executive producer of the award-winning documentary Nomadic Veterans, and the award-winning short-narrative Prisoner of War. He is currently working on his third book as well as pursuing a career in film and television.