A few weeks ago, I was watching a show on the History Channel called “Dogfights.” This show is a military aviation themed show, depicting military reenactments of air combat between conflicting parties.
Now, I realize that some of you out there are saying to yourselves, “Oh that is such a guy thing.” It’s not really. Having been in the flying business for over 20 years I have flown with a great many female pilots, and there are now many Air Force and Navy female fighter pilots. There is a female Air Force A-10 fighter pilot who has been deployed to Afghanistan and she’s quite awesome if you see her interviews on Youtube. Plus, who hasn’t seen Top Gun. So just relax and try and pick up the lesson here which is to fight your own type of fight, not someone else’s.
Recently, there was an episode that reenacted battle between the United States and Vietnam. Back in Vietnam, American pilots were fighting in their F-4 Phantoms and were up against the MiG-17. The Phantom was faster straight away and could climb higher, but more difficult to maneuver in tight quarters while the MiG-17 was slower but could maneuver in a tighter area. The MiG-17 could turn quickly, and it was a clear advantage for the Vietnamese fighter pilots. It was a well-known rule at the time that American fighter pilots would be better off using the advantages of their own planes, such as their speed and climbing ability, to win battles against the other pilots. The American pilots knew they had to fight their battle and not the battle the adversary wanted. By playing to their strengths, they had a better shot at winning. This same principle holds true when we have to stand up to our family, friends, and coworkers. When we create healthy boundaries, we can really benefit when we fight to our strengths instead of playing someone else’s game or fighting their battle.
Here’s a clip of Brigadier General Robin Olds just before he passed away. He was one of the US Air Force’s premier fighter pilots from WW2 until after Vietnam, and he could also grow a magnificent “deployment” mustache.
We often have to set boundaries with people in our lives who are controlling or manipulative. People who possess these traits aren’t going to like you fighting this battle on your terms. Their goal will be to disarm you and have you fight their battle instead. Their battle likely involves some coy ways for them to get what they want. Typically, what controlling or manipulative people desire is for you to let them have their way. If you can stay calm and fight your own battle, you can set the boundary that you likely desperately need to set. You’ve seen their tactics before, so try to keep your eyes open for them, and be ready when they come. They’ll try to make you feel guilty, stupid, or unjustified for your argument.
Just like the American fighter pilots in the Vietnam War, we have to identify our advantages and take care to use them when battling with those who don’t want the best for us. Your advantage may simply be your ability to stay calm in battle and walk away when the time is right. Many fighter pilots have disengaged and left fights, and there is certainly no harm in actively choosing to ignore a conflict until a better time. Exiting on your terms isn’t a sign of weakness, though many interpret it to be. When you recognize that a battle won’t be useful or contribute to any progress, it’s time to walk away. Your best option at this point is to state your position calmly, leave on your terms, and walk away with your head held high. Or, as the fighter pilots would say, ”Select afterburner and get outta’ Dodge!”
Sometimes it’s helpful to create what’s called a boundary script before entering a conversation with someone, this would be like getting intelligence and planning the mission before you go and fly it. We’ve all done this in our heads before talking to someone. We envision how the conversation will go. Sometimes, though, we forget what we planned to say. It helps to jot down a few notes about things you’d like to be sure to say. It’s helpful when you can think ahead of time about what you’d like to say. What is your real argument? What boundary do you need to set? Write it down so you can articulate it correctly. You can then think about what twists and turns the conversation may take so you can prepare for that, too. It’s also helpful to decide what your exit strategy might look like should the other party not respond in a healthy way.
This entire boundary script can really help you prepare for the conversation so the other person doesn’t dominate the discussion, it will help you fight to your strengths. Boundary scripts are helpful in the beginning, but you probably won’t need them as much, if at all, as you gain experience with these tricky conversations. If it’s helpful, you can take a “wingman” with you for support during the first discussion or two. This person shouldn’t be there to fight your battle for you, but they can be there for moral support. If you’re new at these kinds of conversations, having someone you trust by your side can make it much less scary to talk to others. Consider asking someone higher than you on the ladder to join you if you think it will help.
When you start working towards a more improved you, it’s important that you tackle these conversations, as difficult as it may be to have them. It may feel like the impossible, but these talks will get easier with time. As time goes on, you will find yourself having these talks less and less because you’ll be better at setting these limits up front and not letting things get out of control to begin with. Without setting healthy, reasonable boundaries with those in your life, you cannot expect to live a completely fulfilled life.
Remember, fight to your strengths, not someone elses’s!!
Oh yeah, remember that A-10 pilot I mentioned, here she is. Capt Danielle Curley and you really do have to watch her interviews. Although I don’t think she can grow that magnificent ‘stache, I’m pretty sure Robin Olds would be happy to have a fighter pilot of her quality in the squadron.