Thinking Through Another Persons Eyes

Have you ever tried to imagine what it’s like to see the world through someone else’s eyes?  Years ago I had a friend who was red-green colour blind and I used to spend hours trying to imagine how he saw the world and quizzing him on what he saw instead of red and green.  Colour blindness is an example of how we each see the world differently, but we also hear, feel, smell and taste the world differently.  In addition we each filter and process the information we receive from our senses in our own way – generalizing, distorting and deleting – depending on things such as our values and previous experience, to create our individual picture or model of the world.  So one persons experience and memory of an event will never be identical to that of another person.

When it comes to success, being able to understand another person’s perspective can be critical.  As Henry Ford said “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”  Perhaps you could learn from putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes when it comes to the discussion on who does the laundry or your bosses shoes when asking for a pay rise, those of your customers’ or department stakeholders, or anyone else involved in a given situation with you.  And of course when you’re negotiating you’re on mission impossible if you don’t understand the position of the person you’re negotiating with.

Perceptual positions, as they’re called in NLP, are a balanced all-around approach to allow you to look at situations from different vantage points – your own (1st position), the other person(s) involved (2nd position) and as an unbiased observer (3rd position).  It’s a powerful tool to help you change perspective and behavior quickly and easily and if you’re stuck it can help you gain new understanding and create new ideas or choices on how to deal with that situation.  You can use these positions to explore any situation, past, present or future – you can learn from past events; assess current events, the action you are taking and work out if you need to adjust your approach and behavior; and prepare for future events, for example a presentation.

1st position – you and your own reality – experiencing the situation through your own eyes, ears and feelings.  Think in terms of what’s important to you i.e. your values and your goals, so what you want to achieve.

2nd position – the other person(s) in the situation – take a leap of imagination into the other person’s shoes, think as they think and experience the situation as if you were them.  Consider how this situation would appear and be interpreted by the other person taking into account their values, beliefs, goals etc. 

3rd position – the fly on the wall, neutral, detached, independent observer, free of bias – standing back from or sitting above the situation and experiencing the situation so that you ‘see’ and ‘hear’ yourself and other person(s) and observe the interaction in terms of words, gestures and expressions. 

Take a situation and try cycling through the positions – 1st to 2nd to 3rd.  At each one notice the opinions, observations and/or advice that come to mind and consider what you can learn.  From what you’ve learned could you change your behavior to become more successful in that situation?  Then move back to 1st position and re-evaluate the situation again, this time using those new ideas.   

If you fancy stretching your brain and want to read more around this topic try the practical ideas of The Six Thinking Hats from Edward de Bono or if you prefer something a bit more scientific then go for The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, particularly the first chapter “I Think I Would Have Seen That”. 


© Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


9 responses to “Thinking Through Another Persons Eyes

  1. Good point. In order to be able to do 2nd position well, I think it’s so important to get out of my own head and pay attention to the other person/party more – their words, body language, tone, voice, etc. Otherwise, there is no way for me to get out of 1st position and even try to venture into 2nd position. Guess it all comes down to listen and observe.

    • Spot on Rosie. We generally all have one position we tend to stick in – if it’s position 1 you can end up being too self-centred, if it’s position 2 then you get too caught up in what other people think and pleasing others and if it’s position 3, well then you’re disconnected from life. It takes practice to use all three positions effectively and you’re absolutely right that listening and observing are critical.

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