A Salute needs to be Returned

Blogpost by Sebastian Anthony, Senior Consultant, True North


I recall an old incident that sticks in my mind when we talk about “retaliation”. Being in the military helps to build one’s discipline and foster a deeper understanding of leadership, well at least that’s what one hopes.

In a recent run of the Crucial Conversations® program, I highlighted an incident when I was in the military and came across an Operations Officer in a combat unit. Although an accomplished officer in his own right, he rarely acknowledged any good work of his staff or peers. However, the most annoying of all his mannerisms was his lack of respect shown for fellow soldiers. In all my time in that unit, I have rarely seen him ever returning a salute from someone of a lower rank to him, although he expects others to salute him.

Over the period of months, I have heard numerous stories of him either ignoring soldiers who saluted him or apparently looking busy to notice them (at least that’s what they figured). I could attest to some of the stories as I was ignored myself when I saluted him on a number of occasions and also began to accept that he was just “arrogant” or “lazy” to return a gesture of respect.

The frustration of him came to a head when one soldier, we shall call him Sgt. Tom walked past this officer and saluted him and as expected, the officer did not return the salute. Sgt. Tom doubled back around to pass the officer again and this time, Sgt. Tom stood his ground in front of the officer, almost blocking his way, with a salute on the ready. The officer quickly realized what was going on and he realized that there were many eyes on him, to his credit, returned the salute and went on his way.

My takeaway from this was, “If we don’t talk it out, we will act it out”. No one (including me) had the courage to sit and openly talk to this officer in an honest and candid way. We, therefore, resorted to the one thing that would jolt him, i.e., embarrass him. We allowed our emotions to get the better of us.

I realize now that if we could have stayed focused on what we really wanted by being clear in our motives, perhaps we could have found a way to talk to this officer who probably didn’t even realize the consequences of his actions. We could have focused on learning more about this officer, or even tried to strengthen our relationship with him, instead of just wanting to punish and embarrass him.

Examining our motives can be very tough but it’s so necessary to build healthy relationships in the workplace.



Photo by Christina Petsos, Pexels.com