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What are NLP eye accessing cues and how to read them

Have you ever wondered why our eyes move so much and are all over the place while we are engaged in a conversation? Is there some connection between the directions toward which our eyes move and what we are talking about?

Well, some curious folks did wonder about it and observed a pattern. They concluded that we all have three basic representational systems in which we think- visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. For most people, the visual representational system is the strongest. They think in images.

For example, if I talk about going for a walk in the woods, you will picture the woods and all its details. You are thinking in images. Some people will recall the sounds associated with walking in the woods more powerfully- stream flowing, birds chirping, etc. For them, their auditory representational system of thinking is the strongest. They think in sounds.

Then there are those who will actually feel how it feels to walk in the woods more strongly than they will recall the images and the sounds. Such people have the kinaesthetic representational thinking system as the most dominant one.

So what are these NLP eye accessing cues?

External behaviors that indicate what kind of internal processing a person is doing are called accessing cues. It was observed that during a conversation the direction towards which our eyes move indicates what representational system we are thinking in. This is shown in the diagram below. 

NLP eye accessing cues

A useful mnemonic to remember this chart would be to look at the directions of these eye movements with respect to the observer. That way when you observe an eye movement toward your right you will know it’s something ‘remembered’ because ‘right’ and ‘remembered' both begin with an 'R'.

Examples where these eye movements may be observed

If I ask you, “Where do you live?” you will recall the visual images of the place you live in and your eyes will move toward the upper right direction. On the other hand, if I ask you “What sort of a place would you like to live in?” then I’m basically asking you to ‘construct’ the place using your imagination. So your eye will move to the upper left direction.

Similarly, the question, “What is your dad’s voice like?” will make your eyes drift to the middle right direction (sideways) because you are ‘remembering’ your dad’s voice. On the other hand, if I ask you “What did Joe tell you?” then your eyes will move to the middle left if you never met Joe and if you never talked to him, but wanted to lie to me.

When you need to make a very important decision, you will naturally be engaged in an inner dialogue which will make your eyes move to the lower right direction. 

If I ask you, “How was the food at the new restaurant you visited today?” and you say, “Mmm It was delicious!” your eyes will move toward the lower left (kinaesthetic) because you are 'feeling' the taste of the food.

Precautions to be taken while observing eye accessing cues

NLP eye accessing cues can be surprisingly accurate but you need to keep a few things in mind to get the best results:

1) Some people have these directions of eye movements completely reversed, meaning that visual remembering becomes upper left instead of upper right and so on. This is usually the case with left-handed people (but not all of them). So it is a good idea to ask a test question first which you know the answer of, to check whether or not the eye movements are reversed.

2) Sometimes a person answers your question whilst keeping his eyes in the middle, without moving them in any direction. This happens when the answer is in the person’s readily accessible short-term memory and too obvious to be searched for e.g. answer to the question “What is your name?”

3) Use clean questions while looking for eye accessing cues. Clean questions are those questions that do not trigger any extra, unnecessary thought patterns that can interfere with your observations. 

An example of a clean question would be, “What color is your car?” The answer to this question is a simple visual response. But if you ask, “Can you tell me what color is your car?” then it is not a clean question because the person will first engage in an inner dialogue with himself to answer the question, “Can I?” This will make his eyes move to lower right and you will be confused because you were expecting a visual response.