Let Me Look Into Your Eyes: Eye-Acessing Cues by Rachel Hott, Ph.D. Source: Anchor Point Magazine
I am addressing the reader who does not know very much about NLP. For the reader who knows something or a lot about NLP, you can read between the lines. When you are in a NLP practitioner training one of the first things you learn, is to observe the response that you are getting. Each individual has hundreds if not thousands of bodily responses. In this article I will examine the response of the eyes, better known as eye accessing cues (clues).
When I ask participants in a beginning training program what is an essential ingredient for an effective communicator, they inevitably reply eye contact. Common complaints about people who don’t have adequate eye contact is that they are always looking some where else, their eyes are staring at the ceiling, he/she’s looking right through me, he/she’s looks shifty eyed or he/she’s is always looking down. At least these beginners have started the observational process by noticing what happens when you are in conversation. I agree that meeting someone’s gaze during an interaction is effective. However expecting someone to maintain a gaze without any eye movement could be very disturbing to the other person with whom you are conversing. I don’t particularly enjoyed being “stared down.”
Rather than identifying eye movements as less than effective let us explore the purpose of these movements. Imagine that your brain is a computer and your eyes are the filing system. When you ask your brain a question, or try to recall a piece of data your brain goes on a search. The NLP phrase is transderivational search. Your eyes will move in many directions depending upon the type of search. The search is the process for your thinking. Here are some quick exercises for you to do, right now, to understand how you think. Answer these in your mind, not out loud. Remember a time you were in conversation with a friend and both of you were trying to remember the name of a restaurant. How did you remember? What will you look like in ten years? What did you do in order to answer that. How did you look when you were in elementary school? What is it like to be in love? What is something you continually tell yourself? What will a young child’s voice sound like in twenty years? In order to answer those question you had to go through your file system for the information. Either you were able to see pictures, hear words or sounds and/or have feelings, movement or sensations. The way we think is called our internal processes. Now if you were to ask a friend to answer these questions you would also know how they were thinking. You would know, because you would be observing their eyes.
Eye accessing cues were identified by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, the founders of NLP, in their ongoing workshops. They paid attention to the responses they were getting and began to notice patterns. The patterns in the eye movements that they identified were these: For a right handed person when their eyes goup they are visualizing. If their eyes go to the right they are contructing images and if they go up to the left they are remembering images. If the eyes remain straight but defocused the person is visualizing. When eyes stay on the horizontal plane and move side to side the person is hearing either words or sounds. When they move to the right side they are constructing (creating) and when they move to the left they are remembering. When eyes go down right the person is in a kinesthetic mode. This means they may be aware of feelings, movements and/or physical sensations. When eyes go down left the person is experiencing an internal dialogue. If you are a left handed person when your eyes go up you are visualizing. When they go to the right you are remembering and when they go to the left you are constructing images. If they are defocused they are visualizing. When your eyes are moving side to side you are hearing words and sounds. When they move to the right you are remembering and when they move to the left you are constructing. When your eyes look down right you are having an internal dialogue. When your eyels look down left you are in the kinesthectic mode, (feelings, movements and/or physical sensations). When you are interacting with an individual, in order to make an accurate observation remember to determine their eye accessing cues based on their left and right sides.
One quick technique to establish rapport would be to notice where the person’s eyes go. If they do a lot of side to side movement which is in the auditory plane, you can use auditory words in your conversation. Depending upon where their eyes move you can respond in kind by matching the predicates (nouns, verbs, adverbs) in either visual, auditory or kinesthetic terms. This would be called pacing their eye accessing cues. An example of this was when I worked with a management team who identified one person as a day dreamer. You know, Joe, whenever we are in a discussion he is sitting with his head up staring at the ceiling. After they learned about eye accessing cues they realized that Joe was making pictures in his mind about the information discussed. They discovered this because Joe would ask questions related to how the new marketing strategy would look. Of course he could also be day dreaming and now they knew that he was making pictures of these dreams. If that was the case they would have to had bring him back to the discussion by leading him with a visual lead. For example, “Well Joe how do you think that would look or how would you see it in the future.” The latter then gave him the opportunity to do what he was doing however he now was involved with the group.
Another useful technique for rapport and influencing change is to pace and lead. After you have determined how the person is accessing you begin to pace their experience by matching words. The next step is to lead them into another system. For example a client came to me and presented her present situation as very dismal. She felt extremely hopeless and was unable to move out of this stuck feeling. As she described these feelings her eyes predominantly stayed down right. In order for me to do some change work I wanted to see whether she could shift out of the kinesthetic system. I began by pacing her experience and stated that the feelings of hopelessness seemed so full of weight and that it made sense that she could not get out of this stuck feeling when she felt so heavy. I then continued by moving my hand to a point above her eyes which forced her eyes to follow my gesture. As her eyes hit the visual plane I held my hand in front of her right side anddescribed how sometime looking at what weighs us down can be very freeing and revealing. Perhaps we could cut through some of the heaviness and really see what was bothering her. She then responded by saying, “Yes there are pieces of the puzzle that when analyzed can be managed.” Therefore I was able to lead her into the visual system and begin to do some change work with her. In regards to the leading I lead her both non-verbally and verbally. The non-verabal lead was with my gesture and the verbal lead was the visual predicates. In addition to gestures other ways to lead eye movements non-verbally are: to use your own eyes, use objects, i.e. drop a pencil, use a pointer etc. or use your whole body by standing or sitting.
When identifying eye accessing clues you are identifying a person’s thought processes. Thus far I have described what is known as the person’s lead system. The lead system is where the eyes go first forinformation. So typically if you ask someone a question and they immediately move their eyes down left (and they are right handed) you know they first have to an internal conversation in order to retrieve the information. All of this, by the way, goes very fast. You really have to pay attention to the person immediately or you may miss their eye movement. Another way to utilize eye accessing cues is to identify strategies. For example how do you make a decision. Remember the last time you had to make a decision. What did you do in order to make that decision. Now if you unpackage your process you will discover that there was probably a visual, auditory and kinesthetic component in your strategy. When you ask someone how they made a decision watch where their eyes go. Before they answer you should be able to have a sense of at least three to five steps. Perhaps their eyes went to Visual remember, Auditory remember and construct, Visual construct and then to Kinesthetics. If someone has a strategy for something that you would like to learn then this would be the way to begin learning how they do it. Or if someone has an ineffective strategy then after observation you could introduce a component that is missing.
In conclusion identifying eye accessing cues can help you understand someone’s thinking style, establish rapport, expand someone’s thinking process and begin to work with strategies.
For those of you who would like more information on eye accessing cues here are some articles. This information was provided by Lyle Chubb from National Center for NLP Studies, 510 West Union St., Newark, N.Y. 14513. 1. Bucker, Michael and Meara, Naomi, “Eyes Movement as an Indicator of Sensory Components in Thought,” Journal of Counseling Psychology (1987), Vol. 34, No. 3, 283-287. 2. Robbie, Eric, “Sub-Modality Eye Accessing Cues,” Journal of NLP International, January 1987. 3. Hernandez, Vivian O., “A Study of Eye Movement Patterns in the Neurolinguistic Programming Model,” Dissertation Abstracts International, 42(4), 1587-B, Ball State Universtiy, (1981). 149pp. 4. Owens, Lee F., “An Investigation of Eye Movements and Representational Systems,” Dissertation Abstracts International, 38(10) 4992-B Ball State University (1977), 158pp. 5. Radosta, Robert, “An Investigation of Eye Accessing Cues,” Dissertation Abstracts International, 43(3) 883-B East Texas State University, (1982)d, 130pp.
Originally appeared in Anchor Point Magazine. Used by permission.