Eye Accessing: How To Make Out What People Really Think

9 Apr 2018

Eye Accessing: How To Make Out What People Really Think

“My eyes make pictures when they are shut.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A subscriber emailed and said she had some questions about what her husband’s eye accessing meant.

She’d read my free eBook and commented that his eye accessing didn’t seem to be covered in the eBook.

The NLP Eye Accessing Chart

It might be useful at this point to remind you of the eye accessing chart. It may have been a while since you read the eBook. Or that same eBook may still be languishing on your computer desktop, shouting for your attention!

Eye Accessing cues

A very brief overview

Imagine the cute little face above is a real person. When people are thinking they tend to move their eyes in different directions depending on the ‘type’ of thinking they’re engaged in. So, for instance, if they’re making some kind of image, they’ll tend to look up and to their left or right. They’ll look down and to their right when they’re experiencing feelings or emotions and down and to their left when talking to themselves. Across, level with their ears and to their left means they’re accessing sounds or conversations they’ve heard previously. Across, and to their right is constructing sounds or conversations.  Get the whole eBook which explains it in much more detail. (By the way, the Eye Accessing eBook is an extra free resource, in addition to the Soft Skills report.)

Insights into trains of thought

Paying attention to eye accessing is a vital tool for NLP Practitioners and coaches, as it gives them insights into a person’s thinking patterns and how those same patterns might be causing problems. So while the eBook is a good introduction to eye accessing, it doesn’t cover all the possibilities of how and why people move their eyes.

In a face-to-face situation, a person’s eye accessing indicates a sequence of thoughts – that we can track. We can’t tell the content of those thoughts, only the type of thinking involved (i.e. visual, auditory, self-talk or kinesthetic).

Other impressions are also important

In a face-to-face situation additional aspects of a person’s behaviour are taken into account; non-verbal language, words used and the context of the conversation. An NLP Practitioner will utilise all this information in conjunction with noticing eye accessing cues. They will use targeted questions, to determine where to take the conversation and how to uncover and resolve problems.

My subscriber complained that her husband closed his eyes when he spoke

Without the benefit of being able to see other behavioural cues, I suggested that he may merely be trying to shut out visual distractions so that he could think more clearly.

However, even when a person shuts their eyes, you should still be able to see where their eyes are moving. One clue though – they’re unlikely to be looking up – it’s quite uncomfortable to look up with your eyes closed.

So when a person who’s talking closes their eyes, they’re more likely to be looking down, and to their left (self-talk) or their right (feelings and emotions). Remember too, that when you’re looking at someone reverse the direction – i.e. they’ll be looking down to your right for self-talk and to your left for feelings and emotions. For people who talk to themselves a lot, visual distraction can be annoying and uncomfortable.

I bet you just tried looking up with your eyes closed didn’t you? ?

Continually holding eye contact can be uncomfortable too

Another question I received was about looking around when talking. Most of us glance away when we speak to others. We need to move our eyes to think and to access different parts of our brain to ‘find’ information. Some people look away more than others.

direct eye contact

Photo by Yvan Musy on Unsplash

But if you’ve ever spent time with someone who rarely looks away, engaging you with their eyes the whole time they’re talking, you will have possibly found it a little disconcerting and uncomfortable.

So how much direct eye contact should there be?

In NZ at least, we have an unwritten, ‘look to listen’ rule; it’s considered rude to not look at someone when they’re talking to you. However, it’s OK to look away when you’re the one talking, to ‘retrieve’ the information by using eye accessing.

I’m only talking about diverting your eyes away here – not turning your whole body away. We have a variety of cultures here and ‘looking people in the eye’ is not always the best way to build trust and ensure cultural sensitivity. Generally speaking, you should give another person about the same amount of eye contact that they give you.

Reliving a situation or circumstance

What might be confusing for someone learning about the eye accessing cues is if the person talking doesn’t appear to access any of the eye-accessing positions in the chart. If you observe this, it could well be because the person who is speaking is not imagining or remembering anything, they’re reliving a situation – at the time they’re describing it – as if they are there.

Here’s an example

If you ask me to describe my office, I might look up to my left and give a description of it (eye accessing). Or, I might look straight ahead, use my hands (that’s a clue) and explain the layout of my office as if I’m sitting in it, probably moving my whole head as I describe different parts of the room. It’s quite easy to see the difference.

Familiarity causes no ‘looking’

If you ask someone a question and they look straight ahead as they answer, it’s usually because the answer is very familiar to them. They don’t need to ‘think’ about the answer, it’s straight in front of them! Examples might be asking their partners or childrens names, their address or how to spell a simple word.

To have them move their eyes to one of the eye accessing positions, ask them a more detailed question based on their original answer. So, let’s say you asked them a question which would suggest a visually-based response, such as, what was the colour of your first car?’ And they reply, ‘green’ accompanied by looking straight ahead. Ask them, “what shade of green?” Then see where they look. Probably up and to their left.

Up left is where good spellers retrieve words

There are no right or wrong answers regarding eye accessing. It’s a tool to help you help others. However, we do know that the best spellers use a visual strategy. They look up to their left and see the word they want to spell in their mind. If the word is very familiar, or they’re exceptionally good at spelling, they’ll look straight ahead to see the word. (Remember, well-known information is straight in front?)

They’re just reading it

Basically, in either scenario, the person is reading the word they’ve already stored visually.

If you’re a reasonable speller have you ever done this; started writing a word on paper, felt uncertain of the spelling, stopped, looked up to your left and then gone back to writing the word?

If so you were checking your spelling visually – seeing the word – even though looking up and left may have been outside your conscious awareness.

Try using visual remember for other things

Visually storing information is the quickest way to remember something. It doesn’t have to be only words; it could be your times’ tables, a mind map or an infographic.

Why is that?

Because when you use your visual sense, you see everything at the same time. Contrast that with a piece of music.

You can’t hear the music all at once

You can only hear music one note at a time. If a song is 3 minutes long, it takes three minutes to listen to it (unless you speed it up – which somewhat spoils the enjoyment!). In any case, you can’t listen to it in 1 second, because then it would no longer be music! So recalling things auditorily takes longer. That’s why, if you learnt your times’ table by rote – which is usually auditorily and by repetition – as I did, it might take a while as you run through the tables sequentially – until you get to 9  times 7, for example!

Try this instead
  1. Take a times table or something else you’d like to remember easily.
  2. Put the information on a whiteboard or tape it to a cupboard.
  3. Stand so that, when you’re facing the whiteboard or cupboard, the times table is located up and slightly to your left. (Visual remember on the eye accessing chart).
  4. Study it for a few moments; see the whole table, and then see the elements of it.
  5. Turn away from the chart.
  6. Now move your eyes up and to your left and ‘see’ the chart in your mind’s eye.
  7. Repeat steps 3 – 6 a few times, and pretty soon you’ll be able to see the table in your mind and read off the calculation you want.
  8. Try it with words you’d like to learn to spell or mind maps you want to remember.
  • The eye accessing cues are invaluable to NLP Practitioners and coaches enabling them to track a person’s thinking and so determine how they’re creating their problem.
  • There’s no right or wrong eye accessing.
  • By and large, eye accessing is outside conscious awareness.
  • Try remembering things other than words by seeing them in your visual remember area (up and left for most people)
More information

Learn to use the NLP Eye Accessing cues professionally on NLP Practitioner Certification Training

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