This week I sent on huge wads of training manuals, ebooks, resources and much more besides to my students that have reached the half way point in their NLP and Hypnotherapy training with me… Bear in mind that I teach an NLP society NLP practitioner course whereby the certificates are signed by Richard Bandler and John LaValle… You might think it odd that I then offer up my students links to pages such as this one by the prolific researcher and respected author, Michael Heap… Today I am highlighting issues with eye-accessing cues…

The above link is to a paper written by Michael Heap, discussing many of the foundations and assumptions made in the field of NLP. It is a brilliant piece of reading that highlights many elements of NLP that could be disputed.

I think it is very important for my students to see both sides of any argument and be able to stand on both sides of an intelligent discussion in these fields. It shows that they know this subject and understand the underlying theories, philosophy and evidence that underlies the talent of effective practitioners and therapists.

Other people have also written about Eye Accessing Cues, a one-time cornerstone of NLP trainings, but here is what Michael Heap writes about them:

Another important assertion that Bandler and Grinder make about representational systems is that they are revealed in a person’s eye movements. They claim (Bandler & Grinder, 1979, p 25 et seq.) that a person engaged in cognitive activity in the visual mode will tend to look upwards (left for remembering, right for constructing); a person looking horizontally left or right will be using the auditory mode (remembered and constructed, respectively) likewise looking downwards and to the left; and the kinaesthetic mode is associated with a downward gaze to the right. A final eye position is eyes unfocused and looking ahead, which is interpreted as accessing visually represented information (see also Lankton, 1980, p 46).

Without making any systematic observations, one could speculate that people engaging in visual imagery may look upwards in order to project their image on the least cluttered part of their visual field, which is more likely to be above them – the ceiling, a wall, the sky, etc. – than below. Likewise when describing a bodily sensation, people might tend to look downwards because that’s where the feeling is most likely to be located. For example, reference to a nauseous experience may be accompanied by a cursory glance towards the gut area and people may be more likely to look down when experiencing negative feelings – cf. the crestfallen posture of someone relating a tale of woe. However, I am merely guessing here.

At the time Bandler and Grinder made these assertions there was in fact a research literature on ocular gaze and cognition. In one study (Kinsbourne, 1972), right-handed participants were found to have a tendency to turn their head and eyes to the right when interpreting proverbs, but when visualising familiar places or performing calculations they tended to look upwards and to the left. However, one influence on direction of gaze is whether the investigator is standing in front of or behind the participant (see review by Ehrlichman & Weinberger, 1978). So it is reasonable to say that at the time in question, there was some very limited collateral support for the NLP assertions on eye movements.

You readers may also want to read Kevin Hogans own research into eye accessing cues here too.

Now let me digress for a moment here… When the players on a rugby field are lining up in preparation for Jonny Wilkinson to have a drop goal attempt, you can watch how he holds his body in anticipation of receiving the ball, the players around him gather in a particular way and you know what is coming because you have ‘calibrated’ that in your mind. Allow me to explain how we use this for personal development…

Calibration is a key skill to use in therapy, communication, sales and anywhere else by anyone else. It has a bit of a complex name that could scare some people off learning more about it. Once you are over the name, it is an invaluable skill that enhances everyone’s communication.  It is the ability to notice the responses that you are getting from a person you are communicating with or observing – so you can judge what impact words, messages, actions are having on that person. Or you can tell if they are telling the truth, or even have an educated guess at how they might behave next.

From having watched Jonny Wilkinson kick a lot of drop goals in the past, I knew when the next one was coming up, as most rugby fans would have done. This is also useful to gauge how an interaction is going and get an idea as to how they may behave or respond next.

Each human being is unique and is unique in the way that he or she responds to you. So you must learn to open your senses in order to see, hear and feel what is really going on, rather than what you hope is happening. The techniques I am sharing with you today allow you to do all of those things.

Calibration involves looking at the entire person: the way they move, their pace, colour changes, facial expressions, hand movements, those tiniest muscular movements and the way these cues change as the person changes their state or thought process. It also involves hearing the various tones, pitches, timbres and volumes that modify the voice at the same time. Finally, you must learn to recognise the feelings, hunches, intuitions that you get when something smells funny or just feels like it’s going right. This is trusting your instincts and intuition and learning to understand what your unconscious mind is perceiving and telling you.

As a hypnotherapist, it has been very important for me to learn to “read” people — in particular if they are being incongruent between what they say and how they say it. We all have this ability and use it occasionally or often – I want to show you how to use it consciously to make you a brilliant communicator.

So I propose that if the general ‘rules’ of eye-accessing cues are being disputed, as they widely are right now, then instead of attempting to stick to those dated rules… Why not look at calibrating the individual you are with and understanding the eye accessing patterns for them, and adding some context and common sense to them in order to understand them and their pattern as opposed to some general set of rules laid down without any real evidence to support them today? At least, that is what I teach…

Today, I am going to be sharing with you two exercises for learning how to calibrate the responses and reactions of anyone.

This first exercise is known in many circles as the foundation for calibration. The more you practise it, the better your skills are going to be! With anyone you do this with, there are lots of other things to take into account too – remember to develop rapport and use progressive, hypnotic language.

For each of these exercises, you need to find someone to practice with and then follow these simple steps:

Step One: Clear your mind of your thoughts. You do not have to alter your state too much, though a receptive, focused state of mind is most beneficial when you start doing these things. Just be aware of what your own experience actually is.

Step Two: Expand your senses – that is, become acutely aware of all sounds, sights and feelings you are experiencing. Imagine that you are spreading that awareness out to really tune into the entire space you are in. Then notice everything about the person in front of you. Notice the pace which they are breathing at, their pulse, how often they blink, swallow and twitch. Notice the colour of their skin and sense their temperature. Let go of any preconceived notions you may have about this person.

Get yourself into this highly receptive, neutral state and tune in to you surroundings and that individual before moving on to the next step.

Step Three: Ask the person you are with to think about someone they like. Observe what you notice about him. Note any changes in facial expression, breathing, skin colour (is he blushing slightly), pulse (see the side of their neck), posture, overall rhythm, movements, eye patterns and so on. Look at the bigger picture and notice all that you an notice as they engage in this thought.

Step Four: Now ask this person to clear their mind. You can ask them to imagine washing white paint around the inside of their head in their imagination, or ask hem if they remember which shoe they put on first when they got dressed this morning.  Just have them think about something different and neutral in contrast to the content of the rest of the exercise.

Step Five: From this neutral state ask this individual to now think of someone that they mildly dislike. Observe what you notice about them now. Note any changes, in particular those that contrast with what you saw in the third step.

Step Six: Just as in step four, ask them to clear their mind.

Step Seven: Repeat Steps 3—6 until you think you can spot the difference between the two people they are thinking about. Just like you are ‘calibrating’ the response within hem when they engage in that thought.

Step Eight: Ask them to clear their mind and think of one of the people they were previously thinking of. Then notice whatever you notice about them as they do so. Do they look more like they did in Step three or Step five?

Step Nine: Check with your partner whether you are right. Do this ten times in a row and keep track of your accuracy. By repeating doing this, you learn to become more aware of how to calibrate and can then start to do so more naturally and casually in your day-to-day communication and interaction.

That is the simple way to do things. Now here is a slightly more complex way of doing this that can be applied whenever or wherever you are and it is very useful in all manner of circumstances – I have put it in the context of whether someone is lying or telling the truth.

This exercise is almost the same as the previous one; it builds on and develops the basic skill outlined there. Remember, this is only an exercise. It does not matter at first whether you get it right or wrong. With time, practice and persistence you are sure to improve!

Step One: Clear your mind and expand your senses as we did before. Again, be sure to let go of any preconceived notions about your partner.

Step Two: This time ask him a question, which they are going to answer truthfully. You can ask any question you like, but keep it as emotionally neutral as possible. You might ask, for instance, “Are you wearing shoes today?” or “What is your name?” Mentally note what you notice about the person. This time also add in your auditory perception – so, notice whether you can hear any difference in the way they give their answer as well as seeing what changes occur each time.

Also add in your own sensory awareness; notice what you actually feel and where you feel it when they answer and pick up on your own feelings and unconscious responses to the answers. You can learn to trust how you feel as it is a brilliantly accurate resource, especially when you are tuned into it by continually doing exercises like these.

Step Three: Now ask your partner to clear their mind. Just as we did in the previous exercise – with  neutral, different thought.

Step Four: While they are then in this new, neutral state ask them another question. This time ask your partner to lie when they answer. Look and listen to what you notice changing here. Note any changes, in particular those that contrast with what you noticed in Step two.

Step Five: Once again, ask your partner to clear their mind.

Step Six: Repeat Steps 2-5 until you think you can spot this person lying.

Step Seven: Now you get to prove what you have learnt while calibrating…. Ask your partner further questions and ask them to lie or tell the truth at random. Notice whatever you notice about them when they respond to your questions. Then guess whether he’s lying. Go with your first impression, trust your instincts and intuition!

Step Eight: Check with your partner whether you are right. Do this ten times in a row and keep track of your accuracy.

Your mindis always picking up subtle, seemingly imperceptible details from your environment. It has many ways of bringing this kind of information to your awareness: gut feelings, hunches, and intuitions. By practicing these techniques and exercises you learn to trust your unconscious and amazing things happen with your communication and empathy with individuals in many varying ways.

So, have some fun enhancing your calibration skills and watch how your communication becomes more intuitive, empathetic and develops wonderfully. Also watch how you become more intuitive and instinctive as you anticipate and connect more readily and naturally too… Plus, you can abandon outmoded notions of what eye-accessing cues mean, and treat each person individually (as you ought to be doing anyway) and calibrate what goes on with them.