©L Calland 2014

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She proudly handed over a report she had produced for him.
He said, “I asked you to produce a report, why have you given me a
She replied, “You asked me to produce a robust report and that’s what I
have given you.”
He slapped the document down and said, “That’s no use to me. I have to
make a decision before the meeting in 15 minutes. I don’t have time to
read all that.”
She said, “I stayed up all night to make sure the report was thorough
and looked professional. If that’s not what you wanted then you should
have been clear.”
He retorted, “Well I thought you understood that I needed some
recommendations to help make a quick decision, not War and Peace!”
“Well you should have been specific.” She shot back.
“And you should have checked.” He concluded.

Perception is all there is

Here’s a conversation I overheard recently between a manager and
one of his team members.

There is no point wondering about who is right, wrong or better.
This is an example of the millions of high risk interactions that
happen each day between humans. Indeed it is a miracle that any
of us ever achieve any kind of understanding.

“The map is not the territory” Alfred Korzybski

Human knowledge of the world is limited both by our nervous
system and by the structure of our language. This means we don’t
have direct experience of reality, but an indirect experience of it
through our perceptions and our personal and cultural beliefs.

©L Calland 2014
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The problem is that we have a tendency to confuse our models of
reality with reality itself.

At a practical level this can lead us to assume and behave as if our
model of reality is shared, or that it is superior, right, accurate or
better than anyone else’s. Taken to extremes, this is a form of

The most effective communicators act with awareness of this risk.
They usually explore other people’s ‘maps’ or perceptions to test
and confirm that they have some shared understanding and avoid
at least some risk, by questioning their own assumptions and
identifying any gaps.

Judith DeLozier and John Grinder (Turtles all the way down,
1995) introduced the idea of ‘Perceptual Positions’ which enables
us to gain multiple perspectives for any interaction. This powerful
technique can lead to a much richer understanding of the
perceptions involved and help achieve better quality communication.

It can work with interactions involving more than two people, but
we will stick with two here for simplicity.

The Perceptual Positions Tool
First Position

This is you seeing the world through your eyes, hearing the world
through your ears and making sense of the interaction from your

©L Calland 2014
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point of view, through your set of beliefs and assumptions. You will
be in your usual body posture and use first person language.

Second Position

This is you imagining you are the other person, seeing the world
through their eyes, hearing it through their ears and feeling it with
their criteria, goals, beliefs and intentions. It helps to embody their
perceptions by taking on their typical body posture and gestures
and to use their language patterns. It is important to use first
person language to maintain a clean state. For example you would
say “I feel ….” As if you are actually the other person.

Third Position

This implies that you have already enriched your understanding
through a clean First and Second Position experience. It is a
detached perspective, as if you are an observer of the interaction so
it’s important to use third person language (“he/she is….” even
when referring to self), as this helps to stay neutral/objective and
not be driven by the emotions and motivations explored in First
I want/need…My goal is…
I feel… My view is…
What’s important to me is..
I want/need… My goal is…
I feel… My view is…
What’s important to me is…
You as the
other person

©L Calland 2014
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and Second positions. The aim of this position is to evaluate the
dynamic of this relationship and identify patterns, risks and
opportunities for influencing the self.


Most of us have a preferred position, and a least preferred one. It’s
useful to discover your habitual perspective as this is how you are
likely to be experiencing the world most often, and where you have
a tendency to get stuck. You are more likely to find new solutions
from your least preferred perspective, so it is worthwhile
consciously developing this skill.

People with a strong preference for First Position can inspire
confidence through the power of their presence, but can also be self
centred and difficult to influence.

You as objective
observer + enriched
perspective from 1

& 2nd
From here what do I see/hear
& feel? Any insights? What
could help? What else?

©L Calland 2014
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People with a strong preference for Second Position can appear
caring and are easy to collaborate with, but they often overlook
their own needs which can result in a negative impact longer term.

People with a strong preference for Third Position can seem wise
and collaborative, but they may have only briefly visited First and
Second, and have a superficial level of understanding from these

Some people have a preference for a Detached First Position which
has limited potential for any meaningful communication.

There is an art to using this technique and conscious practice is
highly recommended. It helps to physically and visually separate the
positions spatially using different chairs, or by standing in different
locations, until you have clearly wired in the different psychological
states associated with these different perspectives. Use a coach or
mentor to help you cleanly and thoroughly access each position.

You can use this tool for planning purposes before a scheduled
interaction, as well as during the communication.

Fourth Position

There is a fourth position which takes a bigger perspective than
Third. It takes into account the system or systems which provide a
context for the relationship and it can include multiple timeframes.
This advanced skill is associated with Conscious or Integral

©L Calland 2014
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* STEEP = Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental &

“The only form of influence is by example.” Albert Schweitzer
Past Now
You with 1
, 2

& 3
perspectives +
multiple contexts and
History & likely scenarios,
opportunities & risks,
STEEP* Implications,
systemic/integral view