Understanding & Analysing Stakeholder Positions

I am often asked what the difference is between a stakeholder interest and a stakeholder position.

Here is a distinction that might help you next time when doing stakeholder or issue management analysis.

Positions versus Interests


  • What they say
  • Where they stand
  • How they feel


  • Why they say it
  • How they got there
  • Why they care

It is important to make this distinction in decision- making and stakeholder prioritisation in an issue. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) competency would come in handy here, so you could carefully analyse the language being used.

The Perceptual Position is another technique that I have found particularly useful. It comes from the brilliant book – NLP at Work by Sue Knight. NLP at Work is frequently described as one of the classics in NLP. It was the book that pioneered the application of NLP into business and made what had been previously a ‘dark art’ into an accessible practical concept that translated totally into the everyday world of influence, OD & Stakeholder Management.

She describes Perceptual positions are a way of appreciating situations from different standpoints.

Perceptual positions provide a balanced approach to thinking, not only about outcomes but about any other situation. In situations where you feel there is little or no understanding or progress, perceptual positions can provide a way of developing understanding and creating new choices.

This is a very powerful technique for finding congruent solutions especially during engagement periods.

There are many different ways of thinking about situations.

To begin with it is useful to consider the three primary positions.

1st Position

The 1st Position is seeing, hearing and feeling the situation through your own eyes, ears and emotions. You think in terms of what is important to you, what you want to achieve. Your language contains words such as ‘I feel”, “I want”, ‘I hear”, “I see”. The ‘I’ refers to your own way of perceiving the situation. Essentially you are experiencing the situation as you in your own shoes.

2nd Position

The 2nd Position is like stepping into the shoes of the other person and experiencing the situation as if you are them. When you are really in the other person’s shoes and not just intellectualising about them, then what you (the other person) are doing and saying makes sense. No matter how bizarre someone’s behaviour may seem, in their shoes it is normal. It is the best choice they have. When you are really in 2nd position you use ‘I’ meaning the other person because for this moment you are them. The ‘walk a mile in another man’s moccasins’ position.

3rd Position

The 3rd Position is the ability to stand back from a situation and experience it as if you are a detached observer. In your mind, you are able to see and hear yourself and the other person as if you are a third person. It is rather like being a fly on the wall. You are unlikely to have emotions in this position.

Imbalanced positions occur when the above method is not followed and it is often followed by resistance to change and stalling.

Skilful Stakeholder Managers instinctively use all three positions as a way of taking a balanced approach to a situation.