Resolving Conflict by Exploring Different Perspectives

January 27, 2012

The application of NLP Perceptual Positions

Perceptual shifts are where you shift your attention to assume the filters that other people in the world might use, When you assume a different perceptual position you shift your filtering processes to create a different mental map. Perceptual position shifts are useful for ”“

  • Fully associating to your representations for positive purposes

  • Stepping back from your own mental map to get distance from emotionally charged representations

  • Creating empathy

  • Learning things by getting valuable insights into another person’s map of the world

Triple position

Triple position is a way of adapting your internal representations to change perspectives on any experience. As the name would indicate there are three positions (or perceptions) in triple position. These are ‘first position ”“ self’  ‘second position ”“ other’ and ‘third position – observer’. You use triple position to create greater self-awareness, improved empathy with others, learning through modelling and stepping back evaluating different experiences.

First Position: self

First position is your every day experience for any event. In first position you are totally associated to the experience, seeing and hearing the world through your own filters. First position is your personal experience and is undiluted from seeing from another’s point of view. High performance sports, intense levels of focus and problem states are examples of strong first positions. In these cases an individual is totally absorbed and objectivity is at a minimum. The more you sense your body, its tactile awareness and inner sensations, the purer the first position. When you have a strong first position you do not see/hear things from the other’s perspective. This may be useful in certain leadership contexts, yet in resolving conflict, it’s useful to experience the situation from the other person’s perspective.

Second Position – other

Second position is where you assume the perceptual position of another person. Successful communicators such as good sales people, negotiators and therapists are highly effective in using second position. They do this to create empathy or to sense how the client builds their map.  Impressionists and actors are obvious examples of people who can do an excellent second position. In character, the actor or impressionist assimilates much of the person they are portraying. When you assume a second position it’s as if you are seeing and hearing the world through eyes and ears of another person. Some people overdo second position and evaluate their own performance through the filters of another person or make key decisions to please another. Co-dependency in relationships is an extreme example of a continual second position.

Third position: observer

Third position is where you step back and take an observer role watching yours and others’ behaviours from a fly on the wall viewpoint. In third position, it’s as if you are outside of yourself watching and listening to yourself and anyone else on the scene. Some people use the metaphor of seeing yourself on a stage or on a cinema screen to help create a clean observer position. Third position is useful if when you want to back off from emotionally charged experiences to get an objective view. You would assume a third position to reflect on experiences looking in on your performance from the outside, so you can evaluate and give feedback to yourself.  Third is useful after a ‘second position’ exercise where you have stepped into the shoes of another, you would step back and review the experience.  When in third position you move from ‘I’ and ‘me’ and use pronouns such as him/her or your actual name. If I went to third position, I would say, “I see Michael over there typing, his spine is straight; he looks in a good mental state for writing. If he adjusts his breathing to deeper breaths with longer exhales, he will access an even better state”. When third position is overused a person can become somewhat dissociated and disconnected from their experience and lacks the empathy gained in second position.

Triple position ”“ dealing with conflict

The three positions inherent in triple position have many uses. One key application of triple position is dealing with conflict. Conflict occurs because both parties get sucked in their own perspectives and do not see the other person’s viewpoint. In addition, because the people in conflict are stuck in first position they lack the objectivity of shifting to third to get the bigger picture. Another aspect of dealing with conflict is making explicit the ‘intention’ of both parties. Intention usually operates at a higher level than the behaviours inherent in the conflict.

Conflict is a continual loop, it fuels itself. If you have conflict with another person you are likely to provoke that conflict when you meet that person with your body language and voice tone. This is because you are stuck in your first position and therefore you have not resolved your perception of the conflict.

The loop of conflict

You have three choices, i/ continue the conflict, ii/ ask the other person to work through both sides with you iii/ resolve your conflict inside of yourself and notice how the other person reacts. The last is the subtlest because it involves you changing your perceptions of the person to resolve the conflict. The process works on the premise if you resolve the conflict internally, you will give out different non-verbal signals, and as a result the other person will change.  Here is an exercise which will help you work through your part of a conflict.

Perceptual positions ”“ resolving with conflict

1.  Create three places on the floor, representing, first, second and third position. From third position (observer), see and hear the two people in conflict.
2. Step into first position, (your experience). See and hear the other person. Be aware of your feelings. Get a sense of your intention here, the bigger picture.
Step back and shake off your perspective completely
3. Step into second position (the other person’s experience). See and hear and feel it from their perspective. What does he/she (referring to the representation of you) look and sound like in this conflict. How does this feel in the shoes of the other? What is the intention in this position, the bigger picture here in second position (intention of other)?
Step back and shake off the second position completely
4. Step to third, see both people at the same time.  Be clear about both parties’ intentions. Now in third position act as coach offering new behaviours that support the intention but do not promote conflict. You are offering new choices to the representation of you over there in first position.
5.  Step back into first position; rehearse the new alternatives given in step 4.  Notice how your internal experience changes and how your representation of second other person changes.
6. Step into second, experience how the first position representation is now different
7.  Check how you now feel with the conflict

Did you manage to access the three positions cleanly and undiluted from each other? If you did well done! People who are stuck in the conflict sometimes have a challenge going to second position or have weak second position that has parts of first within it. The same is true of third; some people find it a challenge to step back. In each position a different set of filters is present.  If you coach someone through this process it’s amazing watching the changes that occur during the different phases. You will see different breathing patters, postural differences, differences in skin colour, pupil dilation as well as hearing voice tones and speech patterns. When you access a different mental perception, filters change which in turn impacts your verbal and non-verbal behaviour.  This exercise works on the premise you have changed your internal map of the positions within the conflict. As a result you will communicate differently when you next meet the person and their response to you will also be surprisingly different.

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