We have all heard the saying: “Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes”. Being able to see from someone else’s perspective is an important tool for building lasting relationships.
When we can take a step back, and “see” ourselves from the other person’s perspective, we gain a better understanding of their position, or point of view.
Can you think of a time when you found yourself talking, walking, and even using the body posture or gestures of someone else? You know, mimicking their behavior. Becoming someone else to act out a scenario. My youngest daughter does this often when she acts out each of the family members in little 30 second skits. She then asks us to tell her who she is at that moment. She really embodies each of us. She uses our posture, tone, and even mimics our voices.
Perhaps you have done some role-playing when learning a new skill. Think of corporate training events, where you were taught a new skill by acting as if you were a person who embodies the skill you are practicing?
We use our imagination, and our mind’s eye, to become this other person. Just as my youngest mimics those around her. Even actors step into the shoes of another individual when learning to play a new role, they assume another person’s perspective, their character, to gain a deeper understanding of the role. This is called ‘the second position’.
Now have you ever mentally stepped back from interaction to get a sense of yourself? To mentally hear and see yourself from another position, from the perspective of someone you are interacting with? Almost like watching the event unfold on a movie screen, and you are just another character in the movie? When you do this and are able to observe yourself as a person outside of you, we call this the “third position”.
In Reiki, we use this technique to assist a client to work through various scenarios, and it is a very effective NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) technique for improving relationships. It allows us to understand the viewpoint of others around us. To look honestly at the situation from all perspectives. We can gain valuable insights which will allow us to adapt and improve the way in which we communicate. It also allows us to focus on ourselves and understand how we come across to others. And why we perhaps perceive others in a certain light.
This technique of Perceptual Positions can be used to improve the way in which we understand those around us, it allows us to think creatively, and be more flexible in our approach. Perceptual Positions can also give us an opportunity to stand back and consider issues objectively, how our non-verbal, and verbal behavior affects others, while at the same time how the behavior of others impacts us and makes us feel.
We can use the Perceptual Position technique to go back and review an interaction we have had with another person, and even prepare for an important conversation ahead of time. Working through scenarios, and gaining an understanding of different perspectives. Allowing ourselves to respond, rather than react.
So how about a little homework? Let’s do a little exercise and some practical application of Perceptual Positions.
Consider a situation involving someone else that has caused you frustration or a problem in your life. Now let’s use the three (3) perceptual positions to work through the interaction.
Firstly, find a quiet space, where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply and slowly. Do this a few times until you feel relaxed. Now with your eyes closed, and using your mind’s eye (imagination) do the following:
Firstly, consider this situation from your own perspective. Imagine that you are experiencing the situation through your own eyes as if you’re looking at this other person. What do you see? What do you hear? Is this your own voice, your own self-talk? What is this other person saying to you? How are you behaving and reacting? How are you feeling? This will give you information about the situation from your own perspective. Once you’ve gathered all the insights from Position 1 (First Perspective), step out of that Position.
Now, it’s time for you to become this other person. Take on the Second Position. Step into this other person’s shoes and experience the situation completely from their perspective. What do they feel? Describe this situation as if you were the other person. Do this honestly. Try and feel as they would feel. Even imagine smelling to air around them at the time, try imagining what else they may have heard around the environment they were in. Really “step into their shoes” for the moment. Having gathered all the information from the other person’s perspective, now step out of that Position.
We now going to fly above the whole interaction, in your mind’s eye. Just float above, or move slowly away, as if you were a fly on the wall, as we move into the Third Position. This is where you gather information from the situation from an observer’s stance. Imagine that you’re a neutral, third party that is looking down looking down at the situation. Gather information and describe what the situation’s like as the neutral third-party Observer. What does it look like when you consider things from this perspective? Listen to both sides. Sense the feelings both parties (you and the other person) may be feeling at this moment. But do this from a third-person perspective.
With this short exercise complete, it’s now time to consider what you’ve learned in the second and third positions and take these new learnings back to Position 1 and Position 2.
What has changed in light of your new learnings?