Salute to Spouses Blog

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Rank (Shouldn't) Matter

There is an unwritten rule among military spouses: don't wear your service member's rank.

However, spouses in the workforce and volunteer positions may find there are people who are breaking this rule, a lot. So how do you handle a situation in which you are a manager to someone whose service member outranks yours, especially if it causes friction?

According to Dr. Clare Fowler of Fowler Mediation (, "Ignoring tension only fuels tension."

She recommends several ways to face it and keep things under control.

Make no assumptions
Don't assume that just because your employee's spouse outranks yours that there will be a problem. There is a very good chance that absolutely nothing uncomfortable will happen between you and your fellow military spouse. They may be just as determined as you are to keep their identity separate from the service member's identity. If you feel the need to say something, keep it brief and carefree.

"Acknowledge it, but don't make it a big deal about it," said Fowler. "Humor can add lightheartedness to the situation, especially if you say something like 'We should balance each other out well.'"

Be prepared
Being prepared means having a strategy now, just in case things do get rocky later.

 "Be strategic by building a casual, yet professional relationship. For example, mentioning events going on in your military community can foster openness and friendliness. That openness and friendliness will put credit in your bank account so you can withdraw it later if tension does arise."

Use social intelligence
According to Karl Albrecht International (,  "Social intelligence is the ability to get along with others, and to get them to cooperate with you." These people skills are critical for managers since they typically will need to oversee wide a variety of situations at work, including difficult ones.

"Showing a high social IQ can mean being aware of the situation but not using it manipulatively. In other words, don't use power for leverage or revenge," said Fowler.

Fowler warned that it is very easy to be manipulative or revengeful without even realizing it and advises managers to be as transparent as possible by just "putting it out there."

"For example, you could say, 'I'm frustrated that my husband didn't get the promotion, but I want you to know I won't treat you differently. Our work relationship doesn't have to suffer,'" added Fowler.

Replace politics with policy
There may come a time when you have to take disciplinary or corrective action against an employee whose spouse is superior to yours. And that can be very difficult if you allow politics to rule. Instead, use the policy.

"In any situation where there is a conflict or questionable work ethic, you need to have some objective standard to refer to so that you don't appear harder or softer because of an outside relationship," said Fowler. "You could simply say, 'Our office policy states that if any employee's work product is substandard, then I have to address it by doing this or doing that.'"

If there is no office policy in place, get one from elsewhere and use it as a guideline. The idea is to focus on the problem, not the person.


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