Integral Leadership: perceptual positions ... in more depth

Perceptual positions ... in more depth

So how does an analysis of Perceptual Positions relate to everyday life? Peter McNab gives us a snapshot of this powerful technique in action.

Writing These Website Pages
Peter McNab looks at perceptual positions in more depthIf you consider any situation that you have been in, you can think about it from at least three different positions. In NLP we call these Perceptual Positions (although you could just as easily call them First, Second and Third Positions).

As I sit here writing, I could think about these pages solely through my own eyes and perceptual filters but I may end up with something that will only appeal to me. If I am to be at all successful, I need to be able to put myself into the shoes of the potential reader. I must be able to consider what it is that you already know, what you might want to know, how what I am writing might be interesting or useful to you. This is useful to me but with each of these perspectives I can only experience the website from these two separate perspectives. If I add in the perspective of the observer then I can begin to notice the relationship between the reader and myself, and that is different from my experience and the reader's experience; a new dimension has been added and I can start to understand the relationship between the two parties.

I can then take the information that I have learned from each perspective and bring it back into the Self Position. I can then check out if I believe that I am being successful in communicating what I want to; if not, then I can change it. I need to repeat this process continuously as I am writing and later editing what I have written if I am going to produce something that I am happy with and that others will want to read.

Developing Perceptual Positions
When we explore perceptual positions we start to develop the ability to experience relationships in a new way, developing the ability to see and to hear and to feel the relationship through the eyes and the ears and the emotions of the other person, developing the ability to explore the relationship through the eyes and ears of a neutral observer, a fly on the wall, a hidden video camera. When we add these new dimensions to our current perspective we learn new ways of behaving that will enrich and enhance each and every relationship we are in.

I have taught hundreds of people the process of shifting between Perceptual Positions and they have used it in a variety of different ways. On a personal level you can use it to explore your relationship with your partner, your children or your friends. On a professional level you can use it to explore your relationship with your boss, your colleagues, your internal or external customers or clients.

Some examples

And there are many other ways in which you will be able to utilise this process just as easily and effectively so that you are more likely to achieve whatever it is that the two of you want within the relationship.

As we start to explore shifting between these three positions, most people find that initially they have a preference for one or other of these three.

Once we have explored these in more detail, it may help you to decide which you utilise more than the others.

Self Position
When I am fully experiencing the Self Position, I am seeing, hearing and feeling from my own perspective. I am looking out of my own eyes, hearing with my own ears and feeling my own feelings and emotions. As I become aware of myself and my thoughts, I start to realise what is important to me, to know what it is that I want from this interaction, this relationship. I become more aware of what I believe and value and as I continue this internal process, I am more likely to be assertive about my own needs. I become more authentic, more congruent, and true to myself. When I am using this position I am better able to stand up for what I believe in, what matters to me. I can also become more aware of my own boundaries and their limits and hence am more likely to look after myself.

If, however, I spend too much time in the Self Position, there will also be disadvantages (if we experience any interaction solely from one perspective then there will be problems and this is true of Self, Other and Observer).

The downside of only using the Self Position is that I can become very self-centred and maybe even supercilious. Who cares, you might say? I trust that the answer to that will become clearer as we develop the ability to take other perspectives.

Other Position
When I am fully experiencing the Other Position, I am trying to see, hear and feel the interaction from the Other Person's perspective. What I am developing is the ability to see the world through the Other Person's eyes, listen through their ears and feel their feelings and emotions. If I do this well then I can start to get a sense of what the Other believes and values; what is important to the Other. I can get a better understanding of what the Other wants and if develop this skill and begin to do this accurately then I can be more empathic to the Other's needs and wants. I can even begin to predict how the Other might respond in this situation. If the Other is someone I admire or value then I can even start to model the Other's behaviour. I am certainly in a better position to be able to offer better customer service or consulting or counselling. This position is really useful at those times when I don't understand the Other and it helps me to establish and maintain better rapport.

There is a potential downside, of course. If I occupy only the Other Position then it becomes easier to forget about my own needs and wants. If I am not careful I may become acquiescent or even servile to others and only really notice other people's needs and wants.

Observer Position
When I am fully experiencing the Observer Position, it is as though I am seeing, hearing and feeling the interaction from an outsider's perspective - a camera or a fly on the wall. I can watch and listen to each of the people involved as they communicate without getting involved myself, without having to feel their feelings and emotions. From this new perspective, I am more likely to get an overview of the situation, the bigger picture. I can start to notice patterns and become aware of similarities and differences between the parties involved. I get some distance and with the distance I am better able to analyse the situation logically with less emotional involvement. I can learn to detach myself from any stress. In addition, I can start to see myself as others see me.

If I get good at this then I can even start to coach myself into more effective approaches. The Observer Position is really useful whenever I encounter obstacles because I can move to this new "time out" place where I can take stock of the situation and gain new insights. And hopefully these new insights will give me other possibilities, different ways of behaving. If I get lost in the trees, this position helps me to see the forest again.

The downside is that if I occupy only the Observer Position, then I risk the danger of becoming condescending and cold and, just as bad, being perceived as condescending and cold.

Try it for yourself

The best way to get a feel for what Perceptual Positions can bring to your professional or personal life is to try it for yourself using a real-life relationship you would like to improve. Click now to try our online step by step virtual taster.

(The material on these pages has been extracted from Peter McNab's book, "Integral Relationships", published 2005.)

See also:

Perceptual positions - Peter McNab gives us a snapshot of this powerful technique
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