The NLP Eye movements indicate how a person is thinking – whether they are imagining a future or past event, internally re-hearing a sound or making up a sound, talking to themselves, or attending to their feelings.
Being able to notice a person’s eye direction movements – and to recognise what they mean, as suggested by NLP, provides information about how they are processing (or ‘thinking’ in the broadest sense of the term).
Incidentally the person will rarely be aware of how they are thinking yet it is available for the sharp-eyed and skilled observer.
So, let’s say, you are explaining to a colleague how to do something and they say they do not understand – while looking UP to either the left or the right (indicating that they may be visualising or trying to visualise). This could indicate that they need you to demonstrate, rather than verbally explain, so they will be able to see how to do it.
The ‘standard’ eye movement directions as mapped out by NLP co-developers John Grinder, Frank Pucelik and Richard Bandler are:
(Imagine this diagram superimposed on the person’s face. So that as you face them their Kinaesthetic direction is to YOUR left.)
These standard NLP eye directions are simply not ‘true’. That’s why ‘scientific’ studies going back to the late 70’s have been able to prove that NLP ‘does not work’ or is scientifically unsound.
It’s also why the original developers of NLP, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, have been warning that the the standard directions are unreliable – and merely a hypothesis-to-be-checked – since the early 70’s!
These standard eye directions are likely to apply in a majority of people. (Note the word ‘likely’.) But, as we explain in our own NLP training courses it is important to treat this diagram only as a starting point. It would be lovely and simple if we could take this map and know instantly what a person is doing internally.
However life is not like that and people are not robots – real life is a bit more complicated. People differ and not everyone will have the same pattern. We recommend that you treat this diagram as an educated guess – and then use your NLP observation skills to establish how the person in front of you does it.
So when your friend looks up to their left or to their right this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are thinking in pictures – it simply means they are looking in this direction and doing something internally.
You have to establish what they mean using your ‘sensory acuity and calibration skills’. (Another Practitioner skill – it is the highly developed ability to recognise these very subtle behaviours and to ‘calibrate’ or recognise what they indicate for the particular individual with whom we are communicating.)In other words when they look in this direction do they make pictures or do they do something else?
So does it make a difference whether they look up to their left or up to their right?
Not for practical purposes. Yes, most NLP courses do teach that when a person looks up to their left they are making pictures and when they look up to their right they are remembering pictures.
Now while this could be true for some or even many people, it’s a highly unreliable process. And this is one reason why we don’t bother with this distinction in our own courses – if you want to now whether they are making up an image or remembering one it’s easier just to ask the person…
Far better to keep things simple, recognise they are looking in one of the likely Visual Thinking directions, and then use the content of what they are saying and how they are saying it to gauge whether they are making up pictures are actually remember them.
This differentiation between looking up to the left and up to the right has given rise to the NLP Lie Detector myth i.e. that you can tell if someone is lying by how they move their eyes.
This is simply not true – and was been refuted by the originators of NLP in the book Frogs into Princes (1979). They said that for some people their eyes can indicate whether or not they are lying – but that this was not reliable.
Since the mid 90’s we have been passing along this message in our own NLP courses – and providing a more thoughtful, systemic and considered style of NLP.
NLP, eyes and lying – Q&A – published Summer 2000 (from Q&A published Summer 2000)
NLP Representational Systems: Predicates (September 2001)
Using the famous NLP Eye Accessing Cues (January 2002)
‘Gimme time to think!’ (January 2006)
The NLP Eye Accessing Cues (January 2007)
NLP & Representational Systems (February 2007)
The ‘NLP Lie Detector Technique’ (February 2008)
Trivialising NLP (again…) (February 2010)
The NLP Lie-Detector Myth (yet again…) (August 2010)
How to use the NLP ‘Rep Systems’ (March 2012)
‘The Eyes Don’t Have It’ – NLP scientifically disproved? (July 2012)
Using the NLP Eye Movements (April 2013)
NLP – what’s in it for me?
How to learn NLP
7 tips for choosing an NLP training provider
NLP Core Skills – our course in the New Forest
What people have said about our courses
By Reg Connolly, Director of Training, Pegasus NLP