Core Concepts

Perceptual Positions

Many of the patterns within NLP use a technique known as Perceptual Positions to be effective, the idea is a simple one, what we see about a situation is what we believe, if we see things in a different way then our understanding or perception of what is happening will change.


1st Position – Looking out at the World

1429868000_full.pngWhen you look out at the world from your own eyes you are looking at the world from the first position. This is how you naturally see and experience the world and is tempered by your filters of reality.



2nd Position – The Other Persons View

The 2nd position is usually where the NLP practitoner stands, they are the observer on the process and are not part of the clients experience. Being in second position means being able to stand apart from the processes of the client and being able to watch what is going on.

On occasion the 2nd position will be occupied by someone else other that the practitoner. This is common when dealing with personal conflicts within a client, where they are dealing with issues relating to a third party. In these situations it is usual to refer to the other person as 2nd Position. This is the idea of “walking in anothers shoes”.

Practitioners never refer to themselves as being in 2nd position only if it is raised by a client will the positions be clarified.

3rd Position – The Other Them

Often the client will be asked to disassociate from themselves and step into 3rd position which is another way of saying “step out of your body and take a look at what is going on”. Some clients will find this easy, others will find it not so and you may need to help them with moving from within themselves into the 3rd position.positions-stepping

You are asking the client to become the observer of their life rather than the participant, allowing them to step away from their preconceptions and personal map of the world and to make decisions without being truly involved in a situation. This 3rd position is a mental distancing from a problem and one that is particularly effective and a natural part of the human psyche.

In times of extreme stress or anxiety there is a natural move to the 3rd position and there are many stories of people achieving spectacular things and commenting upon how they felt as if they were looking at themselves do it. This is the automatic movement to the 3rd perceptual position.


4th Position and Beyond – Watching the Watchers

Although most of the time moving a client to the 3rd position is enough there may be times when you will need to move a client beyond that to other positions. In fact, there are a number of NLP Patterns that require moving to 4th, 5th or even 6th perceptual positions. The further from 1st position we become, the more detached from the problem we are, this can be incredibly helpful in highly emotional situations to ‘get distance’ and be more objective.

Moving on Up
When moving between perceptual positions it is important to go in sequence. Moving from 1st position to 3rd position is a single step (although the numbering says otherwise), as is moving from 3rd to 4th. You would never jump from 1st position to 4th position without going through the insights of 3rd position, nor would you step back the other way from 4th to 1st without going through 3rd.

Just like the stops on a train, you can’t miss any of the stations you visit each one in turn no matter which direction you go.

Moving a client to one of the perceptual positions is only half of the process and it is important for the insights gained at the higher levels to be brought back into the 1st position. No matter how far out you go the way back is a simple one.

The Oddness of Others – Moving to 2nd Position
When a client needs to get the perspective of another person you may want to move them to 2nd position, in these situations it is important that you move to 2nd position only from 1st position and vice versa.

You can only get to 2nd from 1st, and you can only move back to 1st from 2nd, you NEVER go from 2nd position to any other perceptual position than 1st position as the insights you gain must go back in to the client rather than elsewhere and moving into another position may lose any positive benefits from moving to 2nd.

Leave a Comment