Have you ever felt misunderstood or like you’re not on the same wavelength with someone? Or wondered why someone doesn't seem to grasp your struggles? Perceptual Positions exercise can be a real game-changer in such scenarios.
I got hooked on this tool during my coaching course. This exercise is a way to explore new perspectives and gain insights into both personal and professional relationships. Whether you're preparing for an upcoming interaction or just looking to broaden your thinking and awareness of communication, this tool can be incredibly useful. Especially, when there are difficulties, ongoing conflicts, or longstanding issues within the relationships. Let me explain where it comes from, how it works, and how I put it into practice myself.
Where does it come from?
Perceptual Positions tool is an exercise with roots in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). Before diving into this tool, I would like to give you a bit of information about NLP. Richard Bandler and John Grinder created the NLP approach in the 1970s, and numerous researchers have expanded upon it. NLP is an approach to changing one’s perspective, belief, or repeated patterns by using some tools and techniques to reach a more resourceful state or goals. It is based on the idea that we all have our internal maps of the world that we learn and filter through our sensory experiences like what we see, hear, and feel. NLP helps to spot and tweak the hidden biases or limits in those maps for us to reach our goals. If you want to dive into the very broad and interesting world of NLP, I will leave some links down below.
How does it work?
To experience the Perceptual Positions tool, firstly, think about a situation where things didn’t go well, things became complicated, and misunderstandings occurred between you and the other person.
Then follow the steps below by associating and disassociating in each and after every position. Associating and disassociating are two contrasting yet complementary ways of experiencing and understanding situations. When someone is associated, they get into the feeling of a very specific experience, hearing and seeing what is going on in there and getting the sense of it. Tuning into that state, time, and place, and feel as if you are there. Disassociating is the opposite in which you go out of that state or an experience and analyze from a distance to gain a better understanding of yourself, others, and the situation itself.
The key to success is to focus on the information coming through your sensory channels rather than logical thinking. The question to ask yourself through the technique is “What do I see, hear, and feel?”.
- In the first position, you view through the lens of your own experiences, filtering the world with your personal beliefs, values, emotions, and needs. Observe the other person and the situation, dive deep into the reality of your interactions or reactions - what you see, feel, and hear about yourself - and fully associate with these perceptions.
- In the second position, you step into the shoes of others. See the world and yourself through their eyes. It can be called a “position of empathy”. Understanding their thoughts, feelings, and experiences as if they were your own and associating with the role of being other people.
- In the third position, you become an objective observer. Experiencing the situation indirectly, watch the dynamics between you and the other person from a distance, without any emotional attachment or personal expectations.
- For those seeking deeper exploration, a fourth perceptual position awaits. Here, you observe the observer (in the third position). This would grant you deeper layers of insights, understanding about the situation, and peeling away any snap judgments we might still be hanging onto. It's all about getting the clearest, most real-deal view of things. It's a bit like "Inception for Empathy”.
After navigating between these positions, circle back to yourself. You can always repeat each position to get a better picture. Reflect on the shifts in your emotions, the flow of new thoughts, and the insights you’ve gained. This introspective journey is a ticket to a deeper, more colorful understanding of yourself and the world around you!
My personal experience
Let me share with you my own experience with this tool for a better understanding.
So, I ran into this tough spot with a friend where we just weren't empathizing with each other, and it was super frustrating. At first, I was pretty lost about what was going wrong between us and found myself in a blaming mood. But then, I tried this tool, put myself in her shoes, and also looked from an outer perspective. It was like a lightbulb moment! I started to understand what she might be thinking and why she had certain expectations. By understanding her viewpoint, I gained new insights into my behaviors. This newfound awareness inspired me to change my approach to our conversations, aiming to make them more pleasant and flow more naturally.
Curious to learn more?
By now, you know a lot about this tool. I deeply hope you don’t run into any problems or conflicts on your journey. But that’s life - you never know what might happen. Just remember you’ve got this tool to handle certain challenges that come your way.
Just give it a try! I’d love to hear about your experiences and reflections. If you're facing challenges or seeking a deeper understanding of your relationships, feel free to reach out to me for a coaching session.
Written by Pelin Oztumer (Life coach intern at TINT)
You can check out these resources for a deeper dive:
https://www.theknowledgeacademy.com/blog/nlp-techniques/Perceptual Positions – Seeing it through other’s eyes