Friday, May 30, 2008

The Eyes Have It

To complete my posts on body language I want to touch briefly upon eye cues. Neuro-Linguistic Programming – NLP – is sometimes called “the study of subjective experience.” NLP researchers have gathered extensive observational data relating to “eye accessing cues,” i.e. how eyes move in relation to how we are thinking.

This subject may be a bit of a reach for the Blog’s stated purpose, but in some circumstances it might be extremely valuable as an early warning sign that – as Hamlet so directly put it - something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The accounting profession doesn’t typically need to place the same premium upon detection of the truth as attorneys must when dealing with clients. However, individual accountants and firms can become caught in very messy situations when a client attempts to mislead you as part of their effort to, for example hide assets to avoid support payments or mis-characterize or bury income to reduce or eliminate taxes, etc. So, I decided to include this information because it might save you a huge amount of grief someday.

The bottom line is that in a high percentage of instances eye cues can alert you when someone is actively not telling the truth. Or, to put a finer point on it - when they are lying to your face. If someone is right-handed, they will typically avert their eyes to their right - your left as you look at them - when they are “constructing” an image/scenario in their minds (in other words, making something up). It may only be for a few seconds or considerably longer. (If they are a lefty, the cues are likely to be reversed.)

If you see a repetitive pattern of this behavior, especially in response to your questions about assets, income, etc., it is a good reason to ask more questions and satisfy yourself you are getting accurate information.

The whole idea of eyes providing clues to what a person is thinking initially struck me as a bit of a reach. But, my interest had been piqued and I began some research, even though I kept thinking I should be hearing the theme from The Twilight Zone in the background. After getting a taste of the extensive research that has gone into this subject, I found myself open to the possibility. Still, I wanted to find some real world examples and see if any of this actually worked in the real world.

The first opportunity arrived that very evening at a friend’s house. During dinner I saw their seven year old son sneak a couple handfuls of broccoli into his pocket to avoid having to – Yuck! - eat it. Later, when I was sure no one could overhear us, I sat next to him, leaned over and quietly asked, “Hey Andrew, did I see you slip some broccoli into your pocket at dinner?” Before he said a word, his eyes shot to his right; he paused to collect his thoughts and then said, “No.” Bingo! Textbook! Cook up some brussels sprouts or baked beef heart for your kids tonight and check it out.

If you have an interest in further exploration of this phenomenon, you can Yahoo or Google “NLP + eye cues.”


Ian Brodie said...

Hi Craig,

Really enjoying the blog - there is a ton of hugely worthwhile and practical material here.

But I have to take issue a bit with your eye-accessing cues post.

The reality is that eye accessing cues are at best a hugely unreliabile method of "reading" people - and at worst, completely wrong. Most of the research into eye accessing cues has identified that the standard patterns taught to people just don't work. Probably the best/most recent being documented here:

Unfortunately, once we learn the technique we all fall victim to the human fallacy of seeing patterns in randomness and discounting contradictory evidence.

The real experts who use body language to try to detect lying/truth actually look for changes in someone's regular pattern - not a specific up-left, bottom-right or other patter. They have to use history or control questions to establish what the regular pattern is (and they take more into account than just eye movement).

In real world situations we just don't have the time, experience or data available to do this analysis "live".

But the good news is that most of us have good, well attuned natural radar for spotting when people are lying, feeling uncomfortable, etc. Trusting our intuition & feelings is far more accurate than trying to consciously analyse these complex and subtle body language signals.

Best regards


Craig Weeks said...

Ian, sorry I didn't catch you email earlier. I think you are correct. It IS pretty unreliable as a stand alone method and its value to me over the years has been to provide a means to alert me to ask more questions. When I have seen these patterns and asked more questions I have frequently found the extra effort paid off by revealing something previously undiscovered.