Soldiers of communication

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Christian Bauman
Christian Bauman

For better or worse, the army leaves you slowly. My deployments to the combat zones of Somalia and Haiti were fifteen plus years ago, yet pieces of that time still lay around for me to stumble on, both physically and mentally­—like my combat boots gathering dust in the closet, or my aversion to watching footage from embedded journalists on network news.

There are facets of the army I'll never miss (4 a.m. wake-ups, for instance), but there are things I still get nostalgic about. For instance, how soldiers talk. I don't mean just salty language; I mean the art form of communicating complex thoughts in just a few crisp words.

Years ago, when I was just a month out of the service, I was with friends in lower ­Manhattan, on our way to dinner. We were deep in conversation, when halfway across Sixth Avenue I realized we'd mistimed the light and had a line of speeding cars about to flatten us. Reflexively, I put my hand on the small of my friend Tammy's back, yelled “Move out!” and half pushed, half lifted her to the curb as I ran. Safe on the sidewalk, Tammy stepped back and said, “What was that?”

“What was what?” I said, and she said, “Move out? You guys really say that?”

I was embarrassed, but Tammy leaned up, kissed me on the cheek, and said, “I didn't mean that in a bad way. Thank you.”

And as for “move out”—yes, soldiers do actually say that. It's a phrase that has no parallel in the business world, and I wish it did.

There is an unselfconscious urgency in military communication—barked, of course—that you just can't match in the civilized business world, because it requires just as much backbone from the listener as it does from the speaker.

For instance, to get the full meaning of a properly delivered “Move out!” in the ­business world, I'd have to replace those two simple words with all of the following:

“I need you to do X,Y, and Z, and I'd ­really like you to do it right now. Unfortunately, I don't have time to explain to you why it is I need you to do this, so I'll also need you to make a leap of faith that you can absolutely trust me, that I have the authority to ask this of you, that we will all be better off once you execute on this request, and that ultimately it doesn't matter whether I'm older, younger, or more or less experienced than you—at this moment, there is a decision to be made, I've made it, and it would be really swell if you would just put aside any thought of potential liability and go along with me on this one.”

Somehow, that paragraph just doesn't have the same effect.

How great it would be to cut through the circular language of a civilian meeting by just standing up and yelling “Move out!” and have everyone in the room just snap into understanding, suddenly all on the same page and ready to execute. It will never happen, but what a great dream for us veterans in the workplace.

Unfortunately, we're not allowed to talk like soldiers anymore. But we never stop thinking like one.

Christian Bauman is Managing Director and Chief Creative Officer at H4B Chelsea. He served with the US Army Waterborne from 1991-1995, and is an active supporter of veterans returning to the workplace. To learn more about how your company can help, go to www.facebook.com/100000JobsMission.
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