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Keeping your mouth shut


Aged twenty-one, I walked into my Company Sergeant-Major’s office on the first day in my battalion and tried to make a joke. It went badly wrong. I jokingly said I had been in a fight.

The truth was that I had just had two of my ‘wisdom teeth’ removed by an Army dentist as well as having an operation on my lip to remove a cyst. The left hand side of my face was quite swollen while the right-hand side of my lower lip was purple, swollen and held together with stitches.

From the moment I walked into the Company Sergeant-Major’s office, he marked me out as a troublemaker and the next three years of my short career in the army were probably a lot more painful than they should have been.

My Company commander had the view that he should keep an eye on me despite receiving very good reports and getting on well overall.
It taught me two things which have been very useful to bear in mind. Firstly, a sense of humour is a very good thing but use it sparingly. My humour comes out of feeling more relaxed in situations than I really should be. I try to keep things relaxed but you need to use humour when you know people reasonably well so that they know you and you know how far you can go with it.

The second lesson was about being careful with relationships. My attempt at humour with the Company Sergeant-Major missed the fact that he was a huge influence on my Company Commander, the boss. Although my company commander was one of the best leaders I have ever had, I was slightly dangerous goods in his eyes from that moment.
Nowadays, I still laugh and joke as always, but I am more careful when I use it.

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