footprints1“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
– Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird

Being an empathetic leader often means that taking the time to see things from another person’s perspective. Taking the time to really understand another perspective can often bring the realization that there is a lot more to the story than first thought.

Often times when I am coaching leaders in a conflict situation, I hear “I just can’t understand why __________ doesn’t respond as I would like.” They start judging the person based on outside factors and hearsay, rather than taking the time to really place themselves in the other person’s frame of reference. They can’t see the other point of view because, as Harper Lee so eloquently put it, they have not climbed into their skin and walked around a bit.

When I am in the midst of this type of coaching discussion, I like to take the client through an NLP coaching exercise called Perceptual Positions. The exercise starts by asking the client to identify three locations in space – for themselves, the other person involved in the issue and an observer. I also ask them to identify a neutral space that they will move to between the other locations.

The client is then asked to remember an interaction (internally and non-verbally) from an associated position— this interaction should be seen out of their own eyes as it was originally seen, heard and felt. The internal language of the client during this will be “I see,” “I hear,”“Now this is happening,”“I notice,”“I feel like,” Once this portion of the exercise is complete, the client should return to the Neutral position, take a break and change state, I usually do this by having them shake their body and ask a question that shifts the pathway in their brain somewhere neutral.

The exercise continues by asking the client to then step into the same experience using the frame of reference from the “other person’s” point of view. Noticing the interaction from the other person’s experience as he/she may have seen it, heard it and felt it. Again, the internal language will be “I see,” “I hear,” “Now this is happening,” “I notice,” “I feel like.” It is important to remember that this time the client will be speaking from the other person’s experience and perspective. Once this portion of the exercise is complete, return to the neutral position, take a break and change state (as above.)

Finally the exercise should be repeated from the point of view of an observer. This person is watching the client and the “other person” interact. The observer is disassociated from the feelings of either person. This time the internal language will include “(your name) is doing this,” “(the other person) is doing this,” “(your name) looks____________,” “(the other person) looks_________________,” etc. Once the observations are complete, return to a neutral position, take a break and change state.

Once all three positions have been visited, the client is asked to step back in the original associated position from their own perspective. They should ask themselves what has changed. Additionally, they should consider what position they want to react from in the future.

  • Self – Seeing things from their own Hearing what they would hear from their ears. Feeling their feelings (associated).
  • Other– Seeing things from another perspective. Hearing what the other would hear from their ears. Feeling their feelings.
  • Observer – Seeing things from a neutral Listening without judgment. Having the feelings of a neutral observer.


After going through this NLP coaching technique I often see the client’s change in perspective. They are more open to seeing a situation from another point of view and also learn a valuable tool to help resolve conflict with others and become a more empathetic leader.

It is important to remember that each of the positions within this exercise have a great deal of value for the client as they implement a coaching culture within their role as a leader. The first position (self) – is useful for when the leader wants to stand up for themselves and see from their own perspective. This is a good position to adopt when initially setting desired outcomes. It is a position from which to ask “What do I really want?”

Seeing things from another perspective is useful when the leader can’t understand the behavior of another person. 2nd position allows a leader to get behind another person’s behavior and into their experience and feelings. This gives greater understanding and a choice regarding how to deal with a situation taking into account how the other person is affected. Finally the observer position is of value when the leader wants to stand back, take stock and think objectively about a situation.

At Academy of Leadership Coaching & NLP, we are passionate about helping leaders gain the tools they need to be successful in their positions. If you would like more information on Perceptual Positioning or using NLP coaching techniques to be more effective as a leader, please feel free to contact us.




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