Military Life

5 ways to tactfully square away your superiors

Everyone makes mistakes. Non-commissioned officers and officers have come to expect it from low-ranking privates, but even with over ten years in the service, you're not exempt from the occasional goof. These accidents range from a mistake in uniform, leaving a CAC in the computer, and anything that falls under the category of "humans making human mistakes."


Private Joe Schmoe has every right and responsibility to make on-the-spot corrections, even to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. Leaders worth their weight in salt will take the correction and actually respect the subordinate for making it, but only if the mistake is addressed with tact. If you're a Private and you interrupt the Command Sergeant Major because you saw him take two steps while he's on the cell phone — I mean, yeah, you're not entirely in the wrong, but no one will ever see it that way, especially the Command Sergeant Major.

This list outlines the ways you can tactfully correct your superior, starting with the most subtle methods intended for common mistakes and working its way up to grievous errors, with examples for each. Think of these as an escalation of force appropriate to the situation. With respect to the rank of the person being corrected, you should obviously not reach for the sledgehammer tactic to deal with a thumbtack problem.

5. Quietly point out the mistake

Example: Your superior has their patches on the wrong side.

As odd as it sounds to older Army vets and troops from nearly every other branch, a common mistake soldiers make when dressing in the morning is to put the Velcro "U.S. Army" and name patches on the wrong side. This usually happens when someone is in a rush in the morning and it simply slips their mind.

If your superior's made this goof, get their attention and point to your own patches. They should (probably) get the hint.

Only one person needs to make the big rocks smaller. You don't need to join them. (U.S. Marine photo by Sgt. Jessica Collins)