5 Topics of Conversation Veterans Should Avoid at the Office

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(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sophie A. Pinkham)

During your time in the military, you likely developed a keen sense of what to say, when to say it and to whom. There were written and unwritten rules about decorum and acceptability that included language and communication. You could share some insights with your military leaders confidently, while other information was more appropriately shared with your fellow troops.

Banter, repartee and overall sharing of information looked different in the military than it would in a civilian environment -- particularly in a corporate office.

While you should feel comfortable and valued for your opinion and insights, some things will be better left out of your daily communication.

For example, here are five things you shouldn't talk about at the office:

1. Combat war stories

Without realizing it, your new civilian colleagues encourage you to share war stories and can be intrigued or even fascinated with your experiences during deployment, particularly in combat situations. You might feel tempted to ingratiate yourself to your new co-workers by telling detailed stories of attacks and conflicts you personally participated in.

While interesting and valid, they can be disturbing to someone hearing them out of context. Your colleague's frame of reference -- if they aren't prior military themselves -- might be what they've seen on television or in movies. Now, your personal experience is painting a picture they aren't prepared to hear and envision. Aside from being upsetting to them, they may perceive you differently now. With images in their mind of what you endured and did, would they be able to recommend you for a promotion or additional resources at the company? Could they mischaracterize your skill set as they talk about you to others?

2. Use of profanity

During your time in uniform, profanity, slang and "military lingo" often color the commentary of communication. In the civilian sector, such language is frowned upon and can easily be grounds for reprimand. Civilian employers pride themselves on offering inclusive, receptive and safe places for people to work and grow their careers. Often, foul language is perceived as hostile and offensive and can challenge the company's commitment to a positive culture.

3. Anything "ist"

As companies focus on growing their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, they hold strong against any behavior or communication that appears sexist, ageist, classist or racist. While you might not realize that what you're saying is offensive, avoid:

• Commenting on someone's appearance or clothing (particularly someone of the opposite sex).

• Referring to someone's ethnicity or heritage (particularly as it relates to their ability to do their job).

• Making comments about someone's lifestyle, living arrangements, family structure or parenting choices (particularly if you're adding judgmental language about how you see them).

Communication that puts someone from a disadvantaged or marginalized group in a negative light is highly discouraged at work and has no place in your communication with clients, colleagues or even on social media. Companies today hold a very hard line on this rule, and it's often considered a fireable offense.

4. Medical issues or disabilities

It might feel perfectly safe to communicate to your team that you need to be out of the office to meet with your Department of Veterans Affairs therapist to refill your anxiety medication to treat your PTSD, but this is information that is not legally required to be shared and can backfire.

While your reasoning for being away from work is valid and justified, sharing personal information -- particularly medical -- can introduce questions where none need to exist. Refrain from sharing information about any medical or psychological challenges you're addressing. If you're able to do your job with or without reasonable accommodation, that's all that matters.

5. Deeply personal, familial or emotional/psychological issues

Fighting with your spouse a lot these days? Have a teenage child who's battling drug addiction? Dealing with nightmares that cause you to lose sleep? Like number four above, these issues are deeply personal and shouldn't be shared at work. In the military, you enjoyed a camaraderie that gave you safety and confidence to share deeply personal fears, experiences and concerns. You were in a different culture then. Today, bringing these issues up at work can lead to challenges, including:

• A team leader questions your ability to manage a project because, in their perception, you couldn't "manage your child" who's addicted to drugs.

• A colleague resists offering your valuable insight into a project you're leading, because they worry that your lack of sleep might make you volatile.

• Your boss worries that if they promote you, and you end up going through a divorce, you won't be able to handle the new job.

While these concerns are unwarranted and unfounded, people's perceptions of you, based on the information you share, is important to consider.

Of course, you'll want to make friends, bond with co-workers and feel a sense of community in your new civilian job. Avoiding these five communication areas early on ensures you'll establish your credibility, show what you're capable of contributing and be given opportunities to grow your career as you deserve.

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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