The view from elsewhere

25th January 2008 at 00:00
Putting yourself in another person's place can add a new dimension to your communication skills. Richard Churches and Roger Terry demonstrate the advantages.

Imagine stepping into someone else's shoes. What would life look like? How would it change the way you behave? In our final article on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a form of self-development that teaches you how to improve your communication skills, we will focus on how to use and develop your skills of perception.

By consciously using our ability to adopt different perceptual positions in our mind, we can find new choices and ways of responding to others. This is particularly useful in teaching.

As with many NLP techniques, some people find they have a preference for one position or another. Spending time developing flexibility in your least preferred one can bring huge rewards. Understanding other points of view helps us be effective communicators and supports us in developing flexibility.

There are three basic positions: self, other and observer. In the first position, the self perspective, we are seeing the world through our own eyes.

In the second, the other perspective, we are seeing the world through the eyes of someone else, through their values, their perspective and adopting their body posture.

In the third, the observer position, we are looking at the situation as an external observer, dissociated and unconnected to the situation emotionally.

Rory Wilson, deputy headteacher of East Barnet School in north London, says, "NLP has widened and deepened my toolbox as a school leader and a coach, and work on perceptual positions has provided colleagues with many 'eureka!' moments."

The meta-mirror is a great way to begin exploring the ideas above. Arrange three chairs in a triangle facing each other, or place three pieces of paper on the floor in a similar pattern. Label these "first position", "second position" and "third".

Think of a situation in which you have difficulty dealing with someone and would like that to change for the better. Go to first position. Look across at the person as if they were in the second position. Imagine them there. Tell the person what it is that you find difficult about their behaviour - you can say what you want to as they are not really there and you are going to keep this to yourself.

When you have said everything that you need to, move to the second position.

As you enter second position, become the other person, step into their shoes, adopt their body language and posture and become them. Now, as closely as possible, give the point of view of the other person looking across to where you would be in first position. Say what you think they would say.

Next, move to the third position and imagine yourself as a detached and impartial observer who has heard everything that has been said by you and the other person. Give some words of advice to the first position on how your own behaviour could be modified to improve the situation. Finally, stand in the first position again and notice what has changed. If you want to return to any of the different perceptual positions, to collect more information, you can.

This exercise has been used to great effect in a number of schools as part of anti-bullying strategies. In many cases, the bullies themselves have been taken through the exercise with significant results. You can also use it as part of personal, social and health education. It works well in history lessons, to help pupils explore the views of people from a particular historical context.

Emma Partridge, inclusion manager at St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary School in Kensington and Chelsea, west London, says: "It's great to use when helping a child who has bullied to understand the effects of their behaviour, by experiencing what it feels like to be in the victim's shoes. It gives opportunities for a child to see their behaviour from someone else's viewpoint and helps develop pupils' understanding of others' emotions and thoughts by 'walking in someone else's moccasins'."

With practice, you can learn to adopt these different positions in your own mind as you work with others one-to-one or in the classroom. The technique works well with colleagues in a coaching context, and with children.

Be in third position in your mind when dealing with behaviour issues, to be detached and deal with the situation in a calm, logical way. Adopting second position when planning lessons, explaining concepts or asking questions can help you to see the lesson from the point of view of the learner. Choosing first position when giving praise or rewards will give authenticity and help you to communicate the positivity that you want to convey. Adopting third position gives a different perspective and helps ensure a balance in your approach. Make an effort to have third position as your default perspective in potentially emotionally charged situations, such as dealing with disruptive pupils. This type of approach is sometimes referred to as dissociation. In the dissociated state we are able to monitor what we are doing as we do it.

In NLP, we often say that the meaning of your communication is the response you get. This can be a challenging concept to embrace. However, spending time reflecting on this can be beneficial.

We are all, to a large extent, responsible for the behaviour of people that we interact with. There is nothing you can really do to change someone else's behaviour as they will always be reacting to something that you have done or initiated. Therefore, if you want someone else to change, you need to do something different yourself.

The meta-mirror is a great way to give yourself feedback, particularly if you are not sure how something you are planning to do will come across.

Run perceptual positions for yourself before you meet a parent who you know is going to be challenging. This will enhance your flexibility and give you more options.

You can also run the process before a critical meeting when you are seeking to influence others. It can be a powerful way of getting more information and preparing yourself to influence effectively

Richard Churches is principal consultant for national programmes at CfBT Education Trust and a former Advanced Skills Teacher. Roger Terry is an international NLP trainer, presenter and public speaker and runs Evolution Training with Emily, his wife. NLP for Teachers: How to be a highly effective teacher is published by Crown House Publishing.

Perceptual positions

Self: Seeing things entirely from your own perspective.

Other: Adopting the body language of another person and looking at the situation through their eyes.

Third person: Observing the situation from the detached perspective of someone who has no emotional involvement in it.

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