Why It's Natural to Miss Your Military Colleagues (and What to Do About It)

(U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

During a recent coaching call, the veteran I was speaking to said, "What I really miss about the military is being with my brothers and sisters."

He went on to describe how working in the civilian sector doesn't bring him the close ties, camaraderie and "family-like" environment he enjoyed during his 10 years in the Marine Corps. He wondered whether it is even possible to feel close to those he works with each day.

Without question, there are special relationships formed in the high-stress, high-stakes, mission-driven career path of the military. Forming new, healthy and rewarding professional relationships outside of the military culture, however, is critical to your civilian career.

While you may never feel the deep bonds of brotherhood you experienced on the battlefield, there are ways to move through the process of forming bonds with your civilian counterparts, leveraging a positive outlook and approach.

How to Form Bonds With Your Civilian Counterparts

In order to have a healthy and vibrant civilian career -- whether forming your own company and being your own boss or working in industry, the government or a private business -- relationships matter. In addition to your networking contacts, consider your relationships at work with your colleagues, staff, supervisors and vendors.

To build strong relationships at work, remember:

Your contacts at work come from a different background and culture.

Whether you served four or 34 years in the military, your work style, priorities, goals and job were different. You aligned with values and mission, and commitment was a part of your daily life.

Because of the choice you made to join the military, your family, fellow service members and close friends went on the journey with you. If you had a less-than-ideal experience, they supported and encouraged you. If your experience was positive, they felt that, too.

Your new colleagues and counterparts had a different journey but also have supporters, friends, colleagues and family who've been with them as well, just supporting a different mission. While your new counterparts may never understand the depths of your military experience, that doesn't make them wrong and you right.

Differences can make relationships richer and more rewarding.

You're now in this diverse and complex environment (civilian sector) surrounded by people with different values, goals, missions, styles and personalities. Instead of fighting the differences, see if you can embrace and learn from them. What can they teach you? How can you grow by knowing them and listening to their stories and history?

Start by asking open-ended questions of your colleagues and peers. How did they get into this career? What motivates them? Why are they passionate about this work? How can you help support their goals? People like to talk about themselves and, if you entice your colleagues to talk about their career paths, passions, goals and objectives, they'll likely think favorably of you.

Make yourself available and approachable.

It's understandable that you might be hesitant to form friendships with coworkers. After all, they have not been through what you have. But you can learn from them, they can support and encourage you, and you'll need to have positive professional relationships to advance your work.

If you make yourself more approachable, friendly and available, you may find your colleagues asking you open-ended questions about your past experiences and then bringing you into key opportunities at work. The more people around you feel comfortable around you, the more willing they may be to help you succeed.

Try adding more warmth to your calls and emails. Instead of being succinct and direct, start with a question of how they're doing. Ask about their family and share stories of your own. Personalize your communication to show that you're a real person first and an employee next.

Building relationships with colleagues outside of the military may feel foreign at first. As you learn to trust them, engage and collaborate with them, and learn from them, you'll see that there are great benefits (emotional, professional and career-wise) from having healthy and vibrant professional relationships.

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