Using a different point of view

Have you ever noticed that when a friend has a problem, you can often see an obvious solution or course of action, and yet your friend can’t? Even when you point it out, they often still don’t see the obvious.

This happens because your point of view is more objective than theirs, and thus you see different things. You see different aspects of the problem and often a solution that is just not visible from your friend’s point of view, which of course comes from inside the problem. It is the old conundrum of not being able to see the forest because the trees are in the way.

Using a different point of view can lead to all sorts of benefits, including

  • Gaining clarity
  • Diagnosing the cause of a problem
  • Thinking more creatively and flexibly about an issue
  • Getting more information
  • Understanding other people better
  • Solving a problem
  • Improving relationships and interactions with others
  • Enabling you to think clearly and dispassionately about a problem that is very emotional.

This may seem like a big claim for a simple technique, yet it holds up under test. Try it a few times in a few different situations and see for yourself.

Perceptual positions

NLP uses the phrase ‘perceptual positions’ to describe the different points of view you can have.

Position 1

The first position is standing in your own shoes, looking out of your own eyes, feeling what you feel and hearing what you hear. It is your normal everyday perspective of interacting with the world while you are associated to yourself.

You are asking: How does this affect me?

Position 2

Let me not criticise another until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.

Native American saying

The second position is where you imagine seeing the world from someone else’s point of view. If I were actually Tom or Sally, or even the dog or your computer, what would I notice? To get into this position, you need to ‘hallucinate’ what it would be like to be Tom or Sally and temporarily take on what you imagine are their beliefs and mindset, so that you feel what they would feel and think the way they would think. This is called empathy. In effect, you are adopting their model of the world as far as you are able to (though, of course, we can never do this perfectly).

You are asking: How would this appear to them?

Position 3

Third position is akin to the ‘fly on the wall’ view. It is any place that is far enough removed from the action or thing being observed for you to be no longer a part of it. It is a detached perspective.

You are asking: How would this look to someone who is not involved?

Position 4

Some people describe a fourth position, which is outside everything in such a way that the first three positions, and everything else, are all visible. It is a sort of universal or cosmic perspective, which could be described as actually being the whole system.

Strictly speaking, the fourth position is not really part of core NLP and has been added by those with a spiritual bent. This kind of viewpoint of expanded awareness is normally associated with meditative practices and is experienced in different ways, so there is no simple definition of what the fourth position actually is, and no one way to access it.


People use all three main positions, but tend to have a favourite, and live a lot of their life from this favourite perspective. Doing this seems natural, but it does rob us of richness in life, and can actually cause problems. More successful and more rounded people will swap between positions frequently and tend to use the one that best suits the situation.

For example, if you are enjoying a romantic dinner for two and whatever that may entail afterwards, you really do want to be in first position a lot to get the most out of the experience. The detachment of third position is no fun at all!

Having said that, the detachment of third position is ideal if you need to get clarity on something that is very emotional for you when you are in first position. In first position, you are plugged into your own feelings and emotions, living in the moment. This is great when you want to fully experience and get the most juice out of doing something you enjoy. First position is self centred, however, so the danger is that you pursue your own agenda without considering others, and at times you can find yourself on an emotional roller coaster, which is not much fun at the bottom of the troughs.

In second position, you are extremely aware of the needs of the other person, because you just intuitively know what these are. For example, health and care workers, and mothers, develop this empathic ability which enables them to know what someone needs almost before they do. The danger here is that you always put the needs of others before your own, since you are so keenly aware of them. You take on their problems and troubles as though they are your own. The upside is that if you can anticipate the needs of another person and can provide them so that the other person lights up with joy and happiness, this is truly a rewarding experience.

In third position, you are detached from the action and have no emotional involvement with it. You may well have feelings in third position, but they will tend to be subdued and are a result of what you are observing, not of being ‘in’ the action. Third position is the place to do analysis, weigh up options and consider the bigger picture. Of course, the downside is that you may become detached from life and living, and the happiness it can bring.


As you go through your day, just stop on occasion and think what position you were just using. Notice your patterns with different situations and different people.

Is the way you utilise these positions useful?

As you do this, also notice that you have to use third position to do this exercise.

Using perceptual positions

The concept of perceptual positions can be used in many ways, and they are a common feature of many NLP exercises and techniques. Here are a few easy-to-learn tools that use basic perceptual position techniques. Read through the different techniques and you will start to understand the kinds of things you can do with perceptual positions, after which it’s up to you to decide whether to use these or make up your own techniques!

Dealing with overwhelm

Ever feel overwhelmed by emotions that just stop you from functioning effectively? Or maybe you are overwhelmed and kind of shut down, so you feel stuck and don’t know what to do next.

Perceptual positions to the rescue!

Dealing with overwhelm

Finding solutions to a problem

If someone (let’s call him Tom) has a problem that seems intractable to him, you can think of him as being in a problem space. While he is inside the boundaries of that space, all he can see is the problem, because all the possible solutions are outside the boundaries. These boundaries must exist, because if they did not, there would be no problem.

Finding solutions to a problem

Wisdom from perspective

Wisdom comes from being able to view a situation from many different perspectives, and once you realise how many perspectives there are from the third position, wisdom becomes easy.

Wisdom from perspective


The meta-mirror is a classic NLP technique that was developed by Robert Dilts, one of the early pioneers in the field. It is taught at most NLP practitioner trainings because it is simple, yet can provide such profound insights.

Whatever is going on in your life, you have relationships with people and things. Some work very well, and some don’t work at all well. The quality of our lives depends in many ways on the quality of the relationships we have with ourselves, with others and with the world around us.

The meta-mirror is a tool to help you improve your relationships.


The empty chair

When you are having difficulties with an ongoing relationship, perhaps with a work colleague, there are always two sides to the story. This technique will help you resolve the problem.

The empty chair

Universal perspective

So far we have not talked about using the fourth perceptual position, which involves a level of expanded awareness often associated with meditative practices. People spontaneously experience the fourth position from time to time. This can happen to someone, for example, when they are walking in the woods and suddenly feel ‘at one’ with nature and the planet.

Here is a simple technique that may give you a glimpse of the world from this perspective.

Universal perspective