Watch that Accessing!

People who are skilled in interpersonal communication pay a lot of attention to the specifics of eye communication. Classically, we value strong eye contact, especially in interviews and one-on-one meetings.

Neurolinguistic Programming teaches that we each have a primary learning mode with eye movements that correspond. Here are the modes, movements and characteristics:

VISUAL – learns best through imagery and reading. They often look up to “access” thoughts and memories.

AUDITORY – learns best through listening. They often look to their ears to access thoughts and memories.

KINESTHETIC – learns best through physical action (doing tasks, writing notes). They often look down to their bodies to access thoughts and memories.

You can usually determine your learning mode by simply remembering what you do to be sure you learn. I happen to be strongly auditory, so if I want to remember something I’ll make a cassette tape of the information and listen to it. Some people may read or make associations with mental pictures, others know they have to write notes or rehearse a task. What do you do? You might have a friend watch your eyes during a short conversation and see which direction they most often move to find a thought.

The reason this is important information for interviews and meetings is that other people can project additional meaning onto our eye movements. As a communications consultant I am sometimes called-in to “fix” arrogant managers. A very high percentage of these people also turn out to be kinesthetic learners. Executives experience their downward glances as dismissal. Here are some common misinterpretations for the “innocent” learning mode eye movements (called “accessing”):

VISUAL – up and to the right or left, can be seen as flippant criticism – or as “rolling the eyes”

AUDITORY – eyes shifting to the ears – shifty eyes – untrustworthy

KINESTHETIC – eyes drop down, arrogance or dismissal

A chiropractor once used muscle testing to show me how his simple eye movements could affect my physical energy. In particular, when his eyes dropped down as if giving me a “once over” my muscles weakened. Perhaps the executives who want me to fix their kinesthetic managers unconsciously experience and resent the inadvertent assault on their energy.

So be aware of your eyes. Repeated unconscious movements in a particular direction can cast you in a negative role. Strong steady eye contact is always good and, easy, conscious eye movement will prevent us from appearing to stare. Accessing is natural, but it’s good to be aware of it. A soft smile in the eyes can add a sense of self-assurance, and relax the other person. What we do with our eyes is an important part of our communication. Make sure they’re sending the message you intend.

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