Gaining Additional Perspectives in Relationships*
by Steve and Connirae Andreas
Over 200 years ago, Robert Burns wrote the following (in modern
Oh, would some power the gift to give us,
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.
The ability to experience ourselves as someone
else does is an essential part of
any good relationship.
Without some understanding of how others experience events differently
than we do, the responses of others would be forever a puzzle to us,
as it is to an autistic person.
The basic idea of the importance of learning how to “walk
in someone else’s shoes” is a very old one, and has been
widely recognized in the field of psychology, as well as by many spiritual
However, few people are very good at this ability, because it
is a skill that is seldom taught in explicit detail.
Fortunately, it is possible to help clients learn this key relationship
ability through a simple exercise which can then become a homework assignment.
Though simple to understand, and easy to do, it often has profound
and far-reaching effects. Clients
are often surprised that they become naturally able to understand others’
point of view better, their relationships improve, and they feel more
resourceful in dealing with family, friends, and co-workers.
The homework assignment involves teaching the client three fundamental
perceptual positions. Each
offers a unique kind of wisdom, and together they provide a surprisingly
complete range of information for finding our own solutions to the inevitable
conflicts and challenges that occur as we relate with others.
The Three Perceptual Positions
1. Self Position. When
I think of an interaction with another person, I experience it from
my own point of view, looking out of my eyes, and seeing the other person. This is the position that most of us assume
that we are in all the time.
When I use this position, I am in touch with my own needs, and
can pursue my own interests and goals.
If I only
use self position, I am like a small child, egocentric and selfish,
and others’ needs and desires mean nothing to me.
2. Observer Position. I
can observe the same interaction between myself and someone else from
the outside, as if I were an observer
watching two strangers on a TV set. From this position, I can dispassionately observe the interaction between us--the
sequence of words, gestures, and expressions that occur in the communication.
When I use this position, I am able to see my own behavior more
clearly, as if I were watching someone else, and
also see how each of us is responding to the other--free of evaluation
If I only
use observer position, I become detached and distant, and life becomes
meaningless, like a character in an existentialist novel.
3. Other Position. I experience the interaction between us from
the perspective of the other person.
I become them and experience what it is like to be this person
in this situation, looking out at me.
When I do this well, I take on the other person’s beliefs,
attitudes, values, knowledge, and personal history to the best of my
knowledge and ability.
When I use this position, I am able to gain a deep, rich, and
detailed experiential understanding of what someone else is experiencing.
If I only
use other position, I live for someone else rather than for myself,
a life of self-sacrifice in which others’ needs and desires always
take precedence over my own.
Each of these positions has unique advantages and limitations. The ability to fully utilize all three
gives us all the advantages and leaves the limitations behind. Like
many skills, at first this may be a mostly conscious process, but with
practice it becomes predominantly unconscious and natural. Here are some examples of how this exercise has helped people
spontaneously become more resourceful:
One woman (5) wanted to pleasure her husband during lovemaking,
but had been disgusted by one aspect of it that her husband liked. When she took his position, and discovered how much he enjoyed
it, she said, “Wow, I didn’t know he liked it this much!” When she moved to observer position, she saw herself being
kind to her husband, giving him an experience that was very special
to him. When she returned
to self position, all the disgust was gone, replaced with happiness
at being able to please him so much.
One man, while exploring a difficult quarrel with his wife, discovered
how she felt shocked and attacked by some of the things that he had
said, when from his own perspective he had seen it as simply fully expressing
his frustration and confusion.
This led him to take a much more gentle and compassionate approach
in talking with her. And when he told her what he had experienced
as her, she was moved to tears that he finally understood how she felt.
Perceptual Positions Exercise
These directions are designed to provide an example of a general
path; different people will need more instruction on different aspects,
have different questions or concerns requiring explanation, etc. After at least one, and preferably two or three guided experiences
of the process, the client is asked to find a quiet place and do the
same process daily with one or two incidents from each day.
Fred, I want you to think of a minor
difficulty that you have had with your wife, Ann.
When first learning this method, it is very important to use
a small difficulty. Later,
when you are more experienced and fluent with the steps of the process,
it will be much easier and more useful to process major issues.
2. Self position
this experience from your own point of view.
You are seeing out of your own eyes, hearing with your own ears,
and having the feelings you had in response to those events. ...
Now I want you to allow yourself to move out to the side to a
comfortable position from which you can see yourself and Ann equally
well (or allow the scene to move around until you are in a comfortable
position to observe the two of you).
From this position, run the exact same videotape that you just
saw, but from this new perspective, seeing and hearing all those events
again, this time simply with an attitude of curiosity about what you
can learn about this interaction between Fred and Ann over there. ...
If you have any feelings other than curiosity or a gentle compassion
for them, those feelings probably belong to either Fred or Ann, and
you can let those feelings move over there to where they belong. ...
Now take a little while to allow your whole being to memorize
what this observer position is like, so that it will be easy to return
to it in the future whenever you might find it useful.
4. Other position
look over at Ann and notice how her way of being in the world is expressed
nonverbally in her voice tone, her tempo, her postures, movements, and
gestures, etc. Temporarily leaving behind your own beliefs, values and assumptions,
gently move toward her and step into her, so that you can experience
this situation as she does.
As Ann, run that same video of that event, as you discover what
it is like to be her in this interaction.
Take some time to do this, again with a sense of curiosity about
what you can learn from this.
You may want to repeat the video once or twice to be sure that
you experience it all thoroughly from this perspective. ...
5. Observer position
Now return to observer position.
Keeping all the learnings of the Other position, you can completely
let go of that position, and again run the video, noticing any changes
in how you experience these events from this observer position after
experiencing Ann’s perspective.
6. Self position
return to your own self position, and again run the video, noticing
any changes in how you experience these events from this position after
experiencing Ann’s perspective and Observer position.
person can continue to move from one position to another as long as
it continues to provide useful information. Usually we end in self position, since
this is the way we can most resourcefully live most of our lives. (However, if an experience is very intense,
the client may feel more comfortable and resourceful ending in Observer
this process on a situation always clarifies it, sometimes profoundly.
The learnings that are made in each position carry over and enrich the
others. Usually this exercise results in the client:
1. becoming clearer about wants, needs, and goals,
2. feeling more personally resourceful,
3. becoming more intuitively
accurate about others’ experiencing,
4. being more compassionate
5. having more access to creative solutions.
6. experiencing greater wisdom in relationships.
Like any other skill, learning how to enter each position and
experience it, and learning how to spontaneously shift quickly and easily
from one position to another, improves with practice.
Using this process as homework hones the skill, at the same time
that it clarifies and enriches situations that have been difficult and
troublesome. These new
learnings are felt understandings, not mental ones, and they carry over into the daily interactions with the other
person, changing how the other person is perceived, understood, and
Aligning Perceptual Positions
Once the client has learned the basic exercise presented above,
the benefits can be dramatically increased through additional exercises
in which each position becomes carefully aligned.
Everyone that we have worked with so far has had misalignments,
in which some aspects of the positions are out of place. For instance, a feeling belonging to the other person may be
located in Self position, a Self voice may be located in Observer position,
or the eyes in Self position may be looking from a point three inches
to the left of the actual eyes, etc.
These misalignments prevent us from gaining everything we can
from the positions. Learning
to align the positions increases the purity of
our access to each position, and the resulting benefits.
Ideally, the observer position is at the same eye level as the
two people in the interaction.
If the observer eye level is higher, it is likely that the
observations will become criticisms. Moving the position down to eye level will change criticism
to neutral observation. This
simple move, when practiced over time, has helped people become less
If the observer is not equidistant from
the two people being observed, there is usually a tendency to take the
side of the person who is closer.
Moving the observer position to be the same distance from the
two people will eliminate this bias.
One client had been tested and diagnosed
as biologically depressed and needing antidepressants. Through aligning his relationship with
his mother, he discovered that “his” voice was actually
his mother’s voice stuck in his throat.
After allowing his mother’s voice to return to her, making
room for his own voice, his depression spontaneously cleared up over
the next two weeks.
The basic perceptual positions exercise comes from the field
of NLP. The alignment criteria and exercises were developed by Connirae
Andreas, and is available in a complete
DVD training taught by Tamara Andreas (as part of the Core
Transformation 3-Day Workshop on DVD.
Below you'll find a list of other articles and CD or DVD
demonstrations showing how to do these alignment processes effectively,
including many other alignment criteria that produce results, how to
deal with objections, etc. ( 1, 2, 3, 4).
1. Andreas, C. and Andreas, T (1991) Aligning
Perceptual Positions: a new distinction in NLP. ( Free Online Article)
Salt Lake City UT: Anchor Point, February, pp. 1-6
2. Andreas, C. (1991) Aligning
Perceptual Positions (DVD demonstration of the complete
process) Lakewood, CO: NLP Comprehensive
3. Andreas, C. (1992) The
Aligned Self (audio-CD set) Lakewood, CO: NLP Comprehensive
4. Andreas, Tamara. (2007) Core
Transformation--the Full 3-Day Workshop (DVD training,
Includes a complete training in aligning perceptual positions.)
Real People Press.
5. Pearson, J,
(1997) Aligning Perceptual Positions in Sex Therapy. Salt Lake
City, UT: Anchor Point, January, pp. 13-18
6 . Andreas, C. and Andreas, T. Coming Home to Yourself: aligning
your inner world. Forthcoming book from Real
*To be published in Favorite
Counseling and Therapy Homework Assignments: 56 Therapists Share Their
Most Creative Strategies. Howard Rosenthal, Ed. Accelerated Development/Taylor
and Francis, Philadelphia, PA