The Gouge Cover Photo v2

Swap your perspective

Dropping a 500-pound laser guided bomb was our solution for making a two-way conversation more productive.

November 2001 in the skies over Afghanistan. While in an F-14 Tomcat, my Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) and I conducted a “talk on,” or a two-way tactical conversation, with a US ground soldier who was nestled with his team in the low foothills of Northern Afghanistan.

After he passed his location coordinates, we were having this discussion to verify his position with our sensor and our eyes. We needed to do this to better support him from the air and ensure that if we released a weapon, it would not end up in his lap. Unfortunately, his description of the terrain around him did not match what we saw from 15,000 feet around the coordinates he gave us. We struggled to find his position. We were frustrated. We were wasting time.

After 20 minutes of back-and-forth communication futility, we developed a solution to “clarify” perspective. We asked him if he was OK with us putting a “mark on deck” and dropping a 500-pound laser guided bomb a half mile from his reported position to create an explosion that would throw dirt (and hopefully not him) up to 3000 feet. With this in sight, he could use it as a reference to better describe his position. He approved our aggressive plan because something needed to change. Our two-way talk was not bearing fruit and the reward from doing this heavily outweighed the risk.

We dropped the weapon, observed the impact, and nervously asked: “Are you still there? Did you see the hit?” He came back, “Hell yeah. I see it. From your hit look about a mile to the west. That’s my valley.” Luck favors the bold, and with that info we found his position in 30 seconds. We were back in the game.  

We had been looking a mile in the wrong direction. How could we be that far off? I asked him, “What were you using to describe your position? Are you actually looking at the terrain?”

“Nope. I am looking at my evasion chart.” That was it. We had assumed he was using his eyeballs to describe the valley but he was actually looking at a map. It was like using a AAA road map of Texas to describe the location of an obscure valley in the middle of the state. We were operating from different perspectives, and as a result we were initially unsuccessful.

He was using an Afghanny road map to describe his location, and we assumed he was using his eyes. By not clarifying perspectives early in our conversation, we reverted to assumptions that trapped our conversation in multiple, worthless laps around the same traffic circle/rotary/roundabout. We had to expend a 500 pound weapon on dirt – not on the enemy – to get our mission back on track.

If I had asked my last question first, we would have aligned our perspectives sooner and removed time-wasting assumptions. We were fortunate that he was not in contact with the Taliban at that time because the delay could have cost him his life.

  • Narrow the conversation before the conversation. You maximize effectiveness and minimize frustration by taking the time to understand perspectives and clarify baseline assumptions BEFORE the conversation starts.
  • Reframe if required. If it appears that both parties are talking past each other and the meeting is doing painful laps in a rotary of frustration, take a tactical pause to ask better questions and put a mark on deck to get everyone looking and moving in the right direction. We had to drop a 500-pounder to reframe. I do not recommend this in the business world, so find that thing that will quickly get everyone focused on the path to success.
  • Swap perspectives. Look through the eyes of the other party to better understand their perspective. You show people you care about them by not assuming their view is the same as yours.