Fixing a Bad or Broken Officer and NCO Relationship

Most of the time, the officer and NCO relationship works out pretty well.  Most officers and NCOs can get along, put any personality differences they have aside, and work towards a common goal.  I’d be willing to bet that at least 9 out of 10 of these relationships are pretty functional and enjoyable.

However, there might come a time in your military career, whether you are an officer or NCO, where you just can’t seem to get along with your counterpart.  It’s sad when this happens, but it does happen from time to time.

What I want to do in the rest of this post is share some tips on how to fix a broken or bad relationship with your officer or NCO counterpart.  I’m going to share some tips for officers and NCOs.  Basically, these are a series of steps you could follow to fix things (just my opinion).

*** Please keep in mind this advice is mostly for company grade officers and NCOs serving at the small unit level.

Advice for Officers

If you are an officer, and you can’t seem to mesh with your NCO counterpart, here is what I recommend you do.

# 1 Look yourself in the mirror – The first thing you should do is look yourself in the mirror.  I know we never think that WE are the problem, but sometimes we are.  Ask yourself if you’re letting your NCO do their job.  Ask yourself if you are being a good boss.  Ask yourself if you are easy to work with or if you are a jerk.  Ask yourself if you are staying in your lane and doing your job.  If you find anything you could improve, fix it ASAP.

# 2 Do your initial counseling in writing – I know, you’ve heard it before.  Do your initial counseling in writing.  The truth is, I could visit just about ANY unit in the Army Reserve or National Guard and I would be willing to bet that at least 90% of the officers have not done their initial counseling with their NCO in writing.  If you haven’t done it, do it now.  You owe it to your NCO to do this.  This sets the standards and gives you documentation to fall back on if you need it.

# 3 Have a heart to hear talk with your counterpart – In most cases, the officer and NCO relationship doesn’t work right because of poor communication, personality differences, or unclear boundaries.  One of the most important things you can do is have a heart to heart talk with your NCO.  Let them know that you want a great working relationship with them.  Let them know that you want to get along with them.  Let them know that you respect them.  Let them know that you care about the unit.  If you’ve made any past mistakes, admit you were wrong and apologize.  Start fresh and identify/resolve any issues that need to be fixed.

# 4 Establish boundaries and lanes – This should happen naturally if you’ve done your written counseling and had a heart to heart talk with your counterpart.  Make a list of everything that the two of you do regularly, and assign lanes.  Determine who will be responsible for what and who will be accountable for what.  This can eliminate at least 90% of future problems.  Each person should know their lane and stay in their lane.

# 5 Put Yourself In Their Shoes – Take a minute or two and put yourself in your NCO’s shoes.  What would you do in the same situation?  Why do you think they have a problem with you?  This will help you think clearly and see things from the other person’s perspective.

# 6 Set Up a Meeting with Your Chain of Command – If none of the first five steps work, have a group meeting with the First Sergeant/Sergeant Major and/or commander.  Before you ever do this, give your NCO a fair chance to fix the issues you talked about.  In most cases, the issues will be resolved well before it gets to this point.  If they’re not, get your chain of command together, have some tough conversations and work things out.

# 7 Relief for Cause – This step should almost ALWAYS be avoided.  If you’ve done the other six steps, things should never escalate to this level.  However, if you’ve tried everything else, you’ve given your NCO plenty of chances AND you’ve done your counselings in writing, this might be your last resort.

Once again, in most cases, you can fix a bad relationship by talking through your issues, putting your personal differences aside and focusing on the unit, the mission, and your Soldiers.

Advice for NCOs

If you are an NCO, dealing with a difficult officer can be much different and much more challenging, since they outrank you.  You have to be careful how you address this issue because it could backfire on you if you approach it wrong.  That being said, I still think there are some practical things you can do to fix your relationship.

# 1 Look yourself in the mirror – The first thing you should do is look yourself in the mirror.  Ask yourself if you’re doing what you are supposed to be doing and not sabotaging your officer.  Ask yourself if you are being a good team player.  Ask yourself if you are easy to work with or if you are a jerk.  Ask yourself if you are staying in your lane and doing your job.  If you find anything you could improve, fix it ASAP.

# 2 Have a heart to hear talk with your counterpart –One of the most important things you can do is have a heart to heart talk with your officer counterpart.  Let them know that you want a great working relationship with them.  Let them know that you want to get along with them.  Let them know that you respect them.  Let them know that you care about the unit.  If you’ve made mistakes, admit you were wrong and apologize.  Start fresh and identify/resolve any issues that need to be fixed.

# 3 Establish Boundaries – One of the best things you can do when you sit down with your supervisor is ask them to establish boundaries.  Determine who will be responsible for what, so you each have clear lanes and you don’t step on each other’s toes.

# 4 Talk with Your Chain of Command – If you’ve done these other things, you might want to consider talking to superior NCO and/or your senior rater.  Tell them of the situation, without saying bad things about your boss.  Ask them for any tips or advice on how to improve a broken relationship.

Best Advice

Whether you are an officer or NCO, there are two pieces of advice I highly suggest.  First off, don’t badmouth the other person to anyone else.  Not only can this come back to haunt you, but it’s unprofessional.  If you have an issue with someone, it’s best to talk to them about it.  Secondly, ALWAYS support your counterpart in front of the troops.  The two of you need to be unified at all times.  If there is an issue, address it in private.

Final Thoughts

I hope you never have to go through a bad situation like this in your military career.  I hope you can be the better person and put your differences aside to make your officer/NCO relationship work. If you ever find yourself in this situation, I hope you can follow the advice mentioned above.

What are your thoughts?  What do you recommend someone do to fix a broken or bad officer and NCO relationship?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Disclaimer: I am not giving legal advice nor am I a lawyer or JAG.  This is just my own opinion based on my own experiences.  This article is for educational purposes only.

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3 thoughts on “Fixing a Bad or Broken Officer and NCO Relationship”

  1. Chuck, you are right –this really is a sad state for everyone when an officer and an NCO are at odds. Even if it goes unspoken, the subordinates will be able to detect conflict, and that is in nobody’s best interest. Both the officers and the NCOs in question need to follow this advice for the benefit of those under their command. Thanks for posting!

  2. You provided some great advice throughout this whole article Chuck. You also put it in perfect order in my opinion.

    Looking yourself in the mirror is always the perfect starting point. So many times we want to blame the other party and it is actually our own actions that are causing the issues.

    I am also a firm believer in the face-to-face, heart-to-heart talk. This will usually solve the whole problem if both parties are straight forward and honest. In most cases, just calling for a meet like this will garner respect.

    Great post. I hope it will help any officer/NCO issues that may be happening.

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