Perceptual Positions

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A – Z Coaching and Mentoring – This week’s extract from Clare Smale’s book explores the perceptual positions tool.

Don’t forget if you have a special request for a definition of a coaching term or principle, just let us know! Perfect for anyone studying for an ILM Coaching & Mentoring qualification, or as a refresher for experienced coaches.


Perceptual positions is a technique that involves the skill of adopting more points of view than your own:

  • First position – the coach or client is fully involved; a position of personal strength – the downside is that you might lack understanding of other person and push to achieve what you want without considering the consequences
  • Second position – walking, seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking in another person’s shoes – aware of the emotions and thinking of others – consider different perspectives and reactions or seek opinion
  • Third position – an observer of the other two – sometimes this is called the ‘friendly visitor from outer space who has just arrived’ position or meta view – notice more complex patterns and interactions – take a detached perspective and check the wider ecology of outcomes, remove personal emotions (client and coach) and find solutions to problems.


This model was developed by John Grinder and Judith DeLozier (1987) who discovered that successful negotiators were able to find a win-win situation by adopting the perspectives of others. The role of the coach is to move the client through these positions, asking questions that develop different perspectives.


Taken from the A-Z Coaching Handbook by Clare Smale where you will find a comprehensive A-Z, plus a full list of references.

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