CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 43, 26th January 2004


  1. Editorial: Do you know who you are?
  2. Coaching notes: Perceptual positions

1.     Editorial: Do you know who you are?

Richard Winfield - editor and principal consultantFor the first ten years of my career I was a public transportation planner. During this time I was fortunate enough to have three jobs which enabled me to be at the cutting edge of developments in three different fields. As a result I became a well known speaker at conferences for transport policy and practice thinkers.

After a break for a masters in management I launched myself as a management consultant to the bus industry. I noticed a distinct difference in the way that I was treated and raised this at a conference dinner with some colleagues who sold (advanced) ticket machines. "Ah" they said. "You don't realise. You are 'trade' now." And I had thought I was an expert professional!

Later, I co-founded a newsletter on transport policy. Two of us would meet once a month and work through from Friday evening until Sunday night. We had an early computer (pre-dating PCs) with 64k of RAM, no hard drive and disks that were literally floppy. We printed out narrow columns of text on a daisy wheel printer and photo-reduced them on a photo copier. We then cut them up and glued them onto make-up sheets with PrittStick, and photocopied them onto A3 sheets for the final document. On the Monday morning I collated, folded and packed the newsletters into plastic bags.

Although we operated in my smart office, we thought of it as a kitchen table operation. Home made, perhaps, but the content was high quality and we had subscribers worldwide.

Some time later, a well known transport professor congratulated my colleague and commented on the "20 staff" that we must employ to produce it! From a kitchen table identity we recognised that we were actually an esteemed international publication.

I had another jolt to my identity recently. In the few months since I moved our headquarters to Birmingham I have been running a strategy to establish our profile. However, I remained conscious of the comments of my ticket machine salesman.

I was at a meeting with some well established Birmingham names, one of whom was in my field. But I was not a lead player in the events. Afterwards, as I spoke with the others, I was surprised that not only was I recognised as an accepted member of the local community, but I was also deferred to as an authority. "Gosh", I thought. "They have believed the hype."

Then I stopped to think. I have probably spent more time and money on personal development skills training than everyone else in the room put together. I have probably worked in more countries than everyone else put together. I have probably been involved in more entrepreneurial enterprises than everyone else put together. I am probably older than . . . . No, not that one.

Perhaps their reality was more accurate than mine.

Now they have given me a different perception of my reality I can behave according to a different model.

It pays to know how others see you. They may be right.



Training cost: Sending people on the wrong courses with insufficient preparation or follow-up.

Opportunity cost: Failing to continue to develop your senior people.

Training opportunity: Contact Brefi Group for an integrated approach to corporate development. UK tel: 0845 0678 222 or e-mail:

2.    Coaching notes: Perceptual positions

How to "see ourselves as others see us"; "putting yourself in somebody else's shoes"; "standing back from the situation".

There are three basic positions from which we perceive reality and we unconsciously move between these positions from time to time.

Let us consider these three basic positions to start with.

First position: This is the position that you already take, in which you are associated with your own body. It involves experiencing a situation for yourself, with your own eyes, your own ears and your own feelings.

Second position: This involves experiencing a situation as another party – associated with their body, not analysing what it would be like, but actually experiencing it. You look out through their eyes, hear the sounds that they hear and feel some of the sensations they feel.

Third position: In this third position, you are disassociated. This involves taking an intellectual position without any emotion. Standing back from the situation – cool, calm and collected. You might think of it as 'a fly on the wall'. You can see but you cannot hear or feel.

However, we probably favour one position above the others. Too much consciousness of first position and we can become selfish, and even arrogant. Two much consciousness of second position and we can lack assertiveness and be too compliant. Two much of a third position and we can be logical but miss out on the interpersonal emotional factors.

Being able to consciously take different perceptual positions during a communication, and especially in negotiations, is a valuable skills capability. It gives us more information about a given situation and much greater flexibility of point of view. It helps us to appreciate the influence of our verbal and non-verbal behaviour on others and improves our understanding of other people.

We teach these positions by getting people to mark out the three positions on the floor and then to step between them, taking on board each position as they stand in it. I have made you some floor tiles so that you can try this.

When you try it, I expect you will be surprised at how much information about another's perspective you actually carry in your subconscious. Even in your own case (first position) it is helpful to take the trouble to catalogue your thoughts and feelings and to notice what you see and what you hear, including that inner dialogue you might not have been aware of. As you step out of each of the postions, give yourself a shake to free yourself of the position before moving into the next one. It is then helpful to step out into the third position and calmly appraise what you have learned, reassess what is going on. You might then like to move around again and see what more you can learn.

When learning the technique it is helpful to have someone to act as coach and formalise the questions "What are you hearing?" "What are you seeing?" "What are you feeling?" Another approach if you have more help available is, rather than you moving between first and second positions, to stand in third position and to place two helpers in the first and second positions (representing you and the other in a transaction) and to coach them to act out a situation. As you get them to behave closer to your perception of the reality, you will be able to observe the interaction independently and even ask them what they are experiencing.

The purpose of the exercises is to develop your skill in taking on each position. But the outcome is for you to develop a mental agility so that you can rapidly try each position as required during a transaction – we don't expect you to start moving round the floor during an important meeting.

When you have explored a situation from these three positions in the present, you can also explore an earlier state and learn a bit more about how you got to where you are. Then you can move into the future and explore how things might evolve for the parties according to different outcomes from the present situation.

In total, nine positions! I have made you floor tiles for past, present and future as well. Have fun trying it out.


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We hope you enjoyed this issue of CorporateCoach. If you would like to learn more about how we can work together, then please contact me, Richard Winfield:

Telephone: 08450 678 222, or +44 (0) 121 704 2006 (international)