Don’t Burn Your Bridges in the Military

Today, I want to talk about burning a bridge in the military.  This term basically refers to the act of ruining a relationship with someone, aka “burning a bridge.”  What I’m going to do in the paragraphs below is share a few practical tips that can help you from burning a bridge with others.

Let me start by telling you the Army, Army Reserves and Army National Guard are fairly big organizations with hundreds of thousands of people.  That being said, it is also a “tight knit” group of people.  And even though it is a “big” organization by some people’s standards, there’s a good chance you will see many of the same people over and over throughout your military career. This definitely holds true in the Army National Guard, where you might work with the SAME group of people your entire career.

If you want to excel in your military career, you should never burn a bridge!  EVER.  The relationship that you ruin today could negatively affect your career in the long run.  The subordinate that you piss off today could be your boss in 10 years from now.  The Battalion Commander that you screw over today could be the Commanding General in ten years.  The person you harass could be in charge of the retention board your packet goes before.

Now, I understand there will be times when you meet people you don’t like, don’t see eye to eye with, or can’t get along with.  That’s bound to happen.  People have different personalities, traits, and characteristics.  Some folks you will immediately connect with and others you will NEVER get along with.  That’s reality.  The quicker you realize that, the better.

When you are put in a situation where you can’t get along with someone, or you don’t like someone, here is what I recommend you do:

1. Respect the Rank – You should always respect the person’s rank,even if they are a subordinate.  If your superior is giving you a hard time, at least respect their rank.  You owe it to them to do that.  Never disrepect them in front of anyone (or when you are alone).  ALWAYS BE A PROFESSIONAL, no matter what.  If you stoop to their level, you are just as bad as they are!  When your issue is with a subordinate, remember that they are a real person just like you are.  They make mistakes just like you do.  At least treat them with respect, if you disagree with what they said or did (or their personality). Just because you can’t get along doesn’t mean they are a bad Soldier or bad person.

2.  Put the Mission/Unit First – Another thing I’ve done in difficult situations is to simply put the mission or unit first. Let the other person know that your ultimate goal is to help the unit succeed and to get the mission done.  For most people, this is a good common ground.

3.  Try to Work Out the Problem with the Other Person – If you have a problem with another person, pull them aside and talk to them in a reasonable way. This applies to your superiors and subordinates.  Use tact, be professional, and give them a chance to remedy the situation. If you deal with it correctly, you won’t have to worry about backlash.

4.  Don’t Talk Behind the Person’s Back – Never, and I mean NEVER talk about someone behind their back.  Not only does doing this make you look unprofessional, but you never know the relationship the people you are talking too have with the person you are talking about.  If you have an issue, talk to the person directly, or keep it to yourself.  Gossip and badmouthing is a morale killer.

5. Always Be a Professional – I said this briefly in number one, but always be a professional.  Hold yourself to the highest standards. Never retaliate or stoop to someone else’s level.  Live by the Army values, the Officer Creed or NCO Creed.  Don’t let someone else bring out the worst in you.

BONUS TIP: Get Over It! We need to have thick skin.  As long as someone else is not doing anything illegal or unethical, you need to get over it.  You’re not supposed to like or get along with everyone you meet, or everyone you work with.  You are a leader; a Soldier, and not a child! Just because you don’t like someone or can’t get along with someone doesn’t make them wrong!

Final Thoughts Dealing with people can be tough.  Even in the military, you will meet people and work with people you do not like and/or can’t get along with.  When you meet people like this, remember to never burn a bridge!  Treat the person with respect, avoid them when possible and never let them bring out the worst in you.  The last thing you want to do is a burn a bridge and ruin your career.

What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Burn Your Bridges in the Military”

  1. If you want to be successful in a military career, you NEED to have thick skin. This is a career path riddled with more mental, emotional, and psychological obstacles than any other. There is a reason that within every military branch there are chaplains, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other doctors available to the service members at all times. It is not an easy job. But, to fall victim to the difficulty of the job will make you burn every bridge around you and your career will stagnate. Don’t let things get to you, take failure with a grain of salt and come back stronger, work out problems before they get out of hand. Fortify your bridges, don’t burn them!

  2. To piggyback on many of the themes in the post I'll also say this: You don't know what a person is going through outside of work. If someone is having a bad day or bad week you have to realize that we all go through tough times. This guy's parents could have just passed away or maybe he's having trouble at home. The important thing is to stay professional and keep the mission moving.

    Now, there are some people that are just never going to sit right with you. The best thing you can do is learn to live with them. Just realize that 99% of the people you work with are fine and quality folks and you just have to survive the other 1%. At no point should you disrespect anyone, regardless of rank.

    Also remember, the walls tend to have ears when your gossiping.

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