Shifting Perspective on Difficult Relationships

September 1, 2021

Life is constructed around relationships.  Every day, the paths of individuals converge and connections are made.  Some connections are brief whilst others walk parallel paths for extended periods and even lifetimes.  When paths that are necessarily running together begin to diverge, then relationships can become extremely uncomfortable and conflict ensues.

Conflicted relationships can occur across all of life’s contexts.  Difficult relationships at work with both colleagues and customers can seriously affect performance and comfort in the business environment.  Conflict in the home with spouses, children and family can be just as unsettling and often life changing.  

A relationship where paths are drifting further and further apart can be converged once more, if both parties are willing to examine their own behaviour closely and make the appropriate changes.  The key question is, ‘Is this relationship worth saving and what are you willing to do to save it?’  If the answer is ‘yes, I’m prepared to do whatever it takes’ from both parties, then relationship coaching can commence.  If relationship coaching is not possible, for whatever reason, there are thinking processes we can employ as individuals to reduce the conflict and improve the connection and communication possibilities.

How we perceive a particular relationship with a colleague, customer or someone with a personal connection is very much influenced by our point of view, the perspective that we use when considering the relationship.  The ability to change our perspective and therefore our view of the situation, can greatly impact our perception of that difficult relationship.  In NLP thinking, we have a thinking methodology to help us to do this called ‘perceptual positions.’

Your perceptual position is basically the stance you take when considering a relationship.  More often than not, we will only perceive a difficult relationship from our own perspective.  By changing our position of perception, we can understand the other party or parties more completely and even gain additional resources for ourselves to assist us in rebuilding the damaged connection.

First Position is you, positioned within your physical self.  You are fully associated within your current experience, meaning that you see, hear, feel, smell and taste everything from your own personal perspective.  You notice everything that is happening both inside and outside of yourself, looking through your own eyes.  To communicate your ideas, feelings, beliefs, assumptions and perceptions in first position, your language is in the first person, so using words like ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘myself’.

Once you have fully experienced the relationship from a fully associated perspective of self, you should then move to second position.  The second perceptual position is that of the other party within the difficult relationship.  Taking this position, temporarily, allows you to see the world through their eyes and perspective, adopting their physical posture, values, beliefs, ideas, feelings and assumptions.  This position helps you to evaluate the relationship from the other person’s perspective and view yourself from a dissociated position.  As you view yourself from the other person’s shoes, your language patterns will shift to those of the second person, so referring to yourself as ‘you’.  Making this shift is a very effective way of evaluating your own role within the relationship.  You may also discover some useful resources that the other person has that you can adopt for yourself and take back to position 1.  We rarely evaluate our own role and contribution to difficult relationship, so this represents a wonderful and unique opportunity.

Next we step out of the relational loop entirely and adopt position three which is the role of an impartial observer.  Here, you can gather information about the relationship and its participants as a witness, rather than as part of the interaction.  From third position, you can view the relationship as an interested observer, using third person language, referring to the person that is you and the other party as ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘they’.  Viewing the interaction from this ‘meta’ position allows you to collect valuable feedback with regard to how the behaviours of both parties involved are balanced.  Taking this information back to the you in position one will enable you to enhance the quality of your internal state (how you feel) and the effectiveness and alignment of the relationship.

The next position is position four.  From this vantage point you can view the holistic system of the difficult relationship.  This position pulls the whole communication collective together and can be described in the first-person plural or ‘we’ language patterns. Returning to position 1 and associating back into you, take learnings from your observations and integrate new behaviours.

Give yourself the opportunity to heal difficult relationships by shifting your thinking processes and adopting different frames in which you can view the interaction.  You will learn a great deal about how the relationship is working, appreciate the different stances within the relationship and receive new, valuable resources to enable you to maintain relationships that work.

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