eye directions

The gifted few

It used to be that some people we regarded as gifted communicators and everyone else had to work hard at developing their skills. Then, about 45 years ago, along came NLP which began identifying the skills that the apparently ‘gifted’ communicators used.

One of many obvious-once-it’s-pointed-out discoveries the NLP came up with was the famous, and sometimes infamous, NLP Eye Assessing Cues method.

What are the Accessing Cues?

These are the directions in which a person moves their eyes when thinking about unfamiliar information. They provide us with an educated guess as to how the person is thinking enable i.e. whether they are thinking us to recognise how a person is thinking from watching how they move their eyes.

Why ‘an educated guess’?

The NLP Eye Accessing cues are sometimes presented as facts or truths, something the original developers of NLP cautioned against. It is wise to treat the standard eye directions as simply the beginning of your observation of how and individual thinks and then to use the 6 requirements below to identify the directions favoured by the person with whom you are communicating.

Are they useful

Yes, very. Knowing whether a person is thinking mainly in pictures, in self talk, in feelings or in sounds enables us to know

  • How they are experiencing a situation
  • How they like to understand things
  • How best to communicate with them
  • How to not communicate with them.

Are they reliable?

Yes, providing you follow 6 requirements which need to be in place for the NLP Eye Accessing Cues method to work as it was intended.

  1. Take the time to develop skill in recognising the eye movements – especially the very subtle ones i.e. no more than a slight flicker of the eye
  2. Relax yourself and use Soft Eyes – rather than tense up and stare at the person (Check the article on Soft Eyes on our main website)
  3. Remember that eye movements mainly occur in relation to unfamiliar information – not to topics they are very familiar with or which have occurred in the last day or two
  4. Recognise that it’s important to verify if any one person’s eye movements fits the general pattern. Some people will do it differently. For example, it’s uncommon but some people will have the Feelings and the Analytic Thinking sides reversed).
  5. Recognise that a single eye movement means nothing – we are looking for where they look most frequently in a conversation
  6. Appreciate that no-one ‘is’ visual or auditory or whatever: many people will switch specialities from one situation to another. E.g. a senior manager might do a lot of Analytical Thinking at work and switch to thinking Visually or in Feelings at home

(Incidentally, most scientific research into the Eye Movements has ‘proven’ they don’t work but, as no project has incorporated the 6 requirements, this result is inevitable. See https://nlp-now.co.uk/eyes-dont-have-it-nlp-disproved-or-not).

How to develop skill with the Eye Movements

The best way of learning to use the method is to attend a thorough NLP training such as our NLP training courses in the New Forest since you will get lots of hands-on coaching in identifying the movements and how they differ from person to person. If this is not possible read some of the articles on our websites and then begin practising.

KISS: keep is short and simple. Go for just 3 types of thinking to begin with

  1. Pictures: Up and to the left or right – or looking ahead and defocussed
  2. Feelings: Down and to their right
  3. Analysis and Self Talk: Down and to their left

You can refine things later. Spend a few weeks watching for these three and you’ll soon be noticing the eye movements automatically. Aim to first get used to noticing the very obvious movements: then the more subtle and almost invisible eye flickers. Then begin observing in conversation so you can get feedback from the person on what their movements indicate.

A final important tip

If a person’s eyes are moving it means they are thinking. And if you speak while their eyes are moving you may interrupt their thinking. The rule: if a person’s eyes are moving you need to be quiet and wait until they have finished thinking.  Otherwise you risk confusing them, preventing them from thinking clearly, or irritating them.

This is a shortened version of the full article in our NLP Newsletter.


You’ll find more articles on Rep Systems here:

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)