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Are You Venting or Do You Want Me to Do Something?

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How do you handle it when a Soldier approaches you and wants to talk? Do you listen? Are you involved with other issues and don’t have time? Do you have conflicting priorities and half way pay attention?

How do you handle it when the Soldier shows up at your door unannounced? Do you tell them to come in or simply tell them to come back another time?

I ask these questions because how you handle this situation can have significant 2nd order consequences. It can tell the Soldier you don’t care, they are not important, etc.

Here are a few thoughts to consider:
  • Assess the situation?
  • Is it critical to the Soldier? (notice I said the Soldier). If it is important to them perhaps it should be important to you – Now!
  • Can it wait?
  • Is the Soldier emotional.

Once you have assessed the situation you need to decide if you put down what you are doing and invite the Soldier in or put the Soldier on your calendar for later that day….and I mean that day…don’t put it off.

When the Soldier comes in and before they start talking consider sharing this phrase with them: “Do you want me to do something or do you just want to vent?” “If you want me to do something I am going to take some notes; if you want to vent I am prepared to listen.” I found this to be an excellent way to start the conversation.

The Soldier then has to assess their reason for coming to talk to you. Believe it or not most of them just wanted to vent. They just want to know someone is willing to listen and someone cares. In the rare cases where a Soldier wanted me to do something I found they were usually frustrated because their chain of command was not seeing their issue as important, or they had not addressed it with their chain of command for some reason, usually a lack of trust. Either way I needed to get involved to some degree to ensure action was taken and the issue was handled in a professional non retaliatory manner.

Regardless of why the Soldier came to see me I made a point of scheduling a follow up appointment on my calendar. This ensures the issue is handled appropriately, at the lowest possible level, and shows the Soldier you care.

So the next time a Soldier wants to talk with you consider asking them: “Do you want me to do something or do you just want to vent”? It made a huge difference for me and my Soldiers and it usually put the fire out rather quickly as the Soldier left the office relieved and upbeat.

The last thing I will mention is not everything a Soldier tells you as a leader …should be shared with subordinate leaders. Do not undermine the chain of command but you don’t need to cause animosity either. Use Good Judgement

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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