Perceptual Positions: Experiencing the World from Different Perspectives

You find yourself staring at another person’s ridiculous response to a situation and marveled what was happening in their head. You judge a person’s reaction to pain as inapt because it differed from your response. You wonder why the words you say don’t appear to be getting through to the people you most need to encourage.

Well, that’s what a perceptual position is. It is how we perceive the world and how our view can bound our reality. It is how we can surpass those boundaries, through altering our situation from a perceptual point of view.

Getting a Much Better Impression of Others’ Reality

When we envision of standing as someone else, in their bearing, communicating with their voice, we pick up a lot of information about how they’re feeling and what they are thinking. The scientific account for this is that embracing the other person’s situations triggers our mirror neurons, which allow us to get a better understanding of others.

In NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, this process enables us to advance our interpersonal effects by seeing (and feeling and hearing) things from someone else’s viewpoint.

You do not function in the real world; you operate in the filters of the world. The first, second, and third positions are where you experience various forms of depictions that present a situation from different perspectives. In NLP, experiencing a condition from a first, second, and third position is called triple description or perceptual positions.

The Three Perceptual Positions

First Position

You see through your eyes. You feel things directly, say when someone pinches you, or the cool breeze of air touches your neck. So you’re in your body. You have full access to body sensations. This is the first position.

We all perceive places, things, other people, and the world from what we call the first position. It’s the position of ourselves as characters that function in and with our environment, as well as the other people in that environment.

The first position has a relatively limited vision. From this position, we can only be conscious of what our sensory equipment can take in. This is immensely affected by the internal filters we have established at various levels of our neurology – most of which operate automatically, with little or no sensory input.

To exemplify the idea further, consider the typical dilemma that the police are facing when they examine witnesses to make their statements. If there are three witnesses to an accident, they anticipate getting three significantly different versions of what was seen and heard at the time.

Something occurred, and there must be factual evidence that can be established to sort out the details. Sadly, the reality is that there may be no such entity as truth; there is only perception, and it is limited. Your perception becomes your reality. Different individuals witnessing an accident will feel, see, and hear different things reliant upon:

  • where they were at the time;
  • what was going on in their minds;
  • the state of their sensory equipment;
  • their memories of related circumstances; and
  • their intensities of fear, panic, or rationality in these circumstances.

Achieving a clean first position is when you know who you are, what you want, and how you make contact or fail to make contact with sensory around.

Second Position

You learn or experience something new by performing as if you were a person whom you know personifies the talent you are learning. You find yourself talking, walking, and using the same body posture and gestures with another person, that in a sense, you become just like him/her. This is the second position.

In your mind’s eye, you became associated with the filters of the other person. Young children absorb this way by imitating the people around them. In NLP, the second position denotes the assumption of other people’s perspective.

This position is about visualizing what it’s like to be another person. We refer to this process as hearing and seeing the world through the ears and eyes of another. People do this either to form compassion or to sense how the other person creates their map.

In this position, it needn’t be a man or even a human. It can be that of a painting, a tree, an animal, a fictional character, an idea, or anything from an atom to the entire universe, so long as it is embodied as ‘other’ than the ‘you’ in the first position.

Third Position

You conceptually step back during an interaction and get a logic that you can feel, see, and hear yourself and the people you’re mingling. You see events unfold on a theatre stage or cinema screen, and you play as a character in the scene. This is the third position.

The third position is on a higher logical level; it is a disassociation from the kinesthetics of the first position. In NLP, we refer the third position as stepping back and perceiving yourself as a person outside of you.

This position is beneficial if you want to move from emotionally thrilling experiences to develop a neutral outlook. It is also helpful for stepping back and receiving perceptions into situations and seeing the bigger picture. 

From a third position, you’re like a fascinated, but not openly involved observer of the other two. It’s a rewarding position for gathering information and discerning relationship dynamics going on between them.

Moving Between Positions

Along with representational systems, perceptual positions are the most disregarded part of the patterning. It is essential to understand that the first and second are at the same level of experience. The third position is on a different level.

Some people have a style of going to second before they go to third. It’s like checking what’s on the other side that results in having a better appreciation of the relationship between themselves in first and the person who they mean in the second.

There’s no appropriate or optimal sequence on moving between positions. It is going to be dependent on two things: First, the context you find yourself in, and second, the intention you have.


All three perceptual positions are equally essential. The aim is to be able to move between them quickly and to get the information acquired from each to notify the system inversely. 

The ability to see things from different outlooks is a significant skill in understanding people. It is vital to the communication developments in relationships, negotiation, and conversations, as well as to vigorous limitations and self-concept.