Vets re-entering workforce: Be more disarming

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

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.

Q: My boss, the corporate controller, seems to be engaging in some very sketchy behavior. This is a small office, so phone conversations can be easily overheard. A few weeks ago, I heard “Rick” talking to a woman who had been arrested for prostitution. He was apparently worried because the hotel room was in his name.

Recently, when our president expressed concern that someone had been in the warehouse after hours, Rick confided that he had given his key to a friend. Also, our company has experienced check fraud, and one check was made out to someone with my last name. Rick said it’s no big deal, but this really bothers me. What should I do?

A: When the controller is consorting with prostitutes, giving friends unauthorized access to company facilities and taking a casual attitude toward check fraud, the signs of impending trouble seem pretty clear. If you have a good relationship with the president, you might consider sharing these concerns with him.

But if that seems risky, it’s time to polish up your resume and find a safer place to work. This is especially true if your job involves handling company funds, because you don’t want to get inadvertently snared in some underhanded financial scheme. Should you believe that may have already happened, then consulting an attorney would be the logical next step.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

Twitter: @officecoach