By Roger Ellerton Phd, ISP, CMC, Renewal Technologies Inc. www.renewal.ca
Often, it is useful to assess an event or outcome from several different perspectives: From our own perspective, from the perspective of another person and from the perspective of an independent observer. John Grinder and Judith DeLozier refer to these perspectives as perceptual positions. Perceptual positions provide a balanced approach to thinking about an event or outcome. In situations where there is little or no understanding or progress, they can provide a way of developing new understandings and creating new choices.
The three perceptual positions are:
- First Position: seeing, hearing and feeling the situation through your own eyes, ears and feelings. You think in terms of what is important to you, what you want to achieve.
- Second Position: stepping into the shoes of the other person and experiencing (seeing, hearing and feeling) the situation as if you were them. You think in terms of how this situation would appear or be interpreted by the other person. You’ve heard the expression: “Before criticizing someone, walk a mile in their shoes.”
- Third Position: standing back from a situation and experiencing it as if you were a detached observer. In your mind, you are able to see and hear yourself and the other person, as if you were a third person. You think in terms of what opinion, observations or advice would someone offer who is not involved. You need to be in a strong resourceful state and take an objective view of your own behaviour and look for opportunities to respond differently in order to achieve a different and more positive outcome.
Sometimes we get stuck in one of these positions:
- Someone who lives his/her life in first position would tend to focus on his/her needs rather than the needs of others — a “self-centered” attitude. We could say that addicts tend to see the world from first position.
- Someone, who lives their life primarily in second position, is always thinking about the other person at the expense of their own needs. Co-dependents or enablers in a dysfunctional or addiction situation would fit this description. A saying about co-dependents is: “When a co-dependent dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes, rather than their own”.
- Someone, who lives in third position, would be seen as rather aloof and a disinterested observer of life – always on the outside looking in.
All three positions are of equal importance and it is useful to consciously or unconsciously cycle through these positions as we go about our daily activities.
To illustrate the usefulness of perceptual positions, consider the following exercise, which you can do alone or have someone guide you through the steps. Think of a conversation, discussion or disagreement that you had recently with another person that did not go as well as you had hoped and the situation remains unresolved. For ease of discussion, I will assume the other person is a male.
- Are you prepared to explore this situation to find other ways to handled it, should a similar situation occur in the future? This is an important question. If you are committed to holding the other person as wrong and not prepared to learn from your experiences, no matter what, then it is not worth your time proceeding for this particular situation. Pick another situation.
- Assuming you answered, “yes” to the first question, get yourself into a comfortable position, close your eyes and go back to that event looking through your own eyes seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard and feeling what you felt during that interaction. You can do this quickly, as the purpose here is mainly to remind you of the event and what you experienced. Here you are experiencing the event from first position. When you are finished, open your eyes, look around the room, stand, stretch your body – this is called a break state and the intention is to clear your mind of the internal representations (see NLP Communication Model Part II) of the event.
- Again make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and this time put yourself into the other person’s body, take on his physiology looking through his eyes, seeing what he saw, hearing what he heard, and to the best of your ability experiencing how he felt being to be in a conversation with the person that looks and acts like you! From this other perspective, notice the facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, tone of voice and words that are used by this person that looks, behaves and sounds like you. Does this give you some understanding of why he reacted the way he did? If you were to give the person that looks like you some advice, from this perspective, on how to handle the situation differently, what would that advice be? When you are ready, open your eyes, look around the room, stand up and stretch. Did you learn something about yourself and how you could handle it differently next time with potentially a different result? Often people do and sometimes, they learn even more in the next step.
- Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and this time look at the event as if you were a fly on the wall. Some distance in front of you, you can see a person that looks, behaves and sounds like you and the other person(s). From this other perspective, notice the facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, tone of voice and words that that this person who looks, behaves and sounds like you is using. Can you give this person some advice on how the situation could be handled differently and just maybe achieve a different, more positive result? When you are ready, open your eyes, look around the room, stand up and stretch. How about this time, did you learn something about yourself?
- Repeat steps 2 -5. This time use the new behaviours and resources that you identified in steps 3 and 4. Did you notice anything different this time? Perhaps, an opportunity to achieve a different more positive result?
I often use this exercise in public presentations. I remember at one event, as I finished the exercise, a young lady got out of her chair and quickly left the room. She returned to the room about 20 minutes later and at the next break came up to me and apologized for leaving the room the way she had. She went on to explain that about two weeks earlier, she had had a major fight with her roommate and long-time close friend that resulted in her moving out and the two of them had not spoken to each other since. As a result of doing the exercise, she realized how she could have handled the situation differently and left the room to have a conversation with her friend. As a result of this new conversation, she was moving back in with her friend and roommate that very evening.
This reminds me of two NLP Presuppositions: ‘The system (person) with the most flexibility of behaviour will have the most influence on the system’ and ‘There is no failure only feedback’ and the second of the Five Steps for Success — take action!
Have fun with this exercise, it is easy to do and very powerful!
You can use perceptual positions to review an event in the past or to prepare for an event in the future.
And NLP is Much more than that!
Author: Roger Ellerton is a certified NLP trainer, certified management consultant and the founder and managing partner of Renewal Technologies. He can be reached at Renewal Technologies www.renewal.ca. The above article is an extract from his book Live Your Dreams – Let Reality Catch Up: NLP and Common Sense for Coaches, Managers and You.