NLP Techniques

Eye Body Language – Knowing What People are Thinking

The NLP term for eye body language is eye accessing cues. Have you ever noticed that people move their eyes around when they’re talking?

There are lots of theories about what it means when people move their eyes in a certain way. Some cultures think it is rude to maintain eye contact when speaking, and others think it is rude not to. Some see moving eyes around as being shifty eyed, that the person is lying if they can’t look you in the eye.

Eyes in different places

Studies have shown that eye body language indicates particular kinds of thinking. Moving your eyes relates to different senses and different brain hemispheres.

Visual system processing

For the majority of people looking up and to the right means a person is constructing a picture. Looking up on to the left usually shows they are remembering a picture. Another way people sometimes process visually is looking straight ahead in a defocused way. You might think of it as a glazed look.

Auditory system processing

You access remembered sounds by looking straight to the left, while constructed sounds are to the right. Often a head tilt accompanies auditory processing, as though a person is talking on the phone.

Kinesthetic system processing

Looking down right is about accessing feelings. A phrase we sometimes use sums this up – “he looked down right depressed”.

Auditory digital processing

We look down to the left when we talk to ourselves. People can depress themselves by looking down left and right. They get stuck in a “negative self talk – feel bad” cycle.

Eye Accessing Cues Diagram

The following diagram is how the person would look to you when someone puts their eyes in different places. These pictures show the head as straight. The important thing is where the eyes are in relation to their head.

Often these eye accessing cues are lightning fast and sequenced. It is unlikely someone will hold their eyes in a particular place long enough for it to be a look. It is more like a glance. Try watching TV interviews to get more familiar with these patterns.


Does this work for everyone?

The majority of people process information in this way. NLP calls this “normally wired”. Occasionally, some people are “wired” in reverse. Often, this is due to left handedness. They make constructed pictures by looking up to the left and look right for remembered. Constructed sounds might be straight left and remembered straight right.

What this means, is you cannot just assume that if someone looks to their right they are lying or making it up.

To find out how someone processes, ask questions that access those modes. “What is the color of your house?” to find how they access remembered pictures. “What does your dog sound like?” for remembered sounds.

Generally, though looking up means some kind of visual imagery, looking side-to-side means sounds, and looking down either means they are talking to themselves or feeling something.

How is this useful?

Eye body language is not only useful to know how other people are thinking, you can use it to help you think more clearly. When you want to create images, you can look up consciously to the place you usually visualize. When you need to tune in to your feelings, you can look down to the right. If you talk to yourself too much, or make yourself depressed by looking down, make it a habit to put your eyes some place else.

Most of us have habitual ways of thinking. If you try to move your eyes smoothly around in a circle, you may find places where they stick. These places might hold the key to untapped resources and creative thinking.

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  1. Thank you for having this. I move my eyes when people speak and I have had some of them get mad at me because they think I am rolling my eyes at them.

    This should help explain it.

    1. Moving your eyes shows processing. When you are talking this is really useful. When someone else is talking and you are still doing it, it can mean you aren’t listening and are thinking about what you are going to say next.

      It makes a great learning experience to notice what you do during a conversation. When I was first learning NLP I realised I wasn’t really listening, but waiting for them to stop so I could get my next bit in…. Aaghh!

      Best practice is to look the person in the eye even if it is just a glance to show you are paying attention.

      When you are talking it is also really useful to be monitoring their body language and facial expressions, so you can recover if the conversation starts to go pear shaped. Much better for rapport

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