Change Work October 2007

The Eyes Are The Mirror Of The Soul

This saying seems to crop up in various places and in several languages.  A quick Google brings up references to Latin, French and Yiddish origins!

It means that you can divine someone's character or thoughts from looking into their eyes. And many people would accept this intuitively without necessarily having any specific evidence for it.

Now, I don't know any way of telling what another person is thinking just by looking at their eyes.  That is, the content of their mental processing cannot be ascertained this way.  However, the way that the eyes move indicates the type of representation that is being accessed - and this is borne out by observation.

So, if you ask me a question that requires me to access a memory stored visually, e.g., "What colour is your front door?" then I'll glance upward and to my left.

Similarly, prompting me to remember a sound, e.g., someone's voice, causes me to glance to my left along the mid-line, neither up nor down (towards my left ear!).

If I have to visually imagine something, i.e. to construct a mental image of something I have never actually seen, then I'll look upwards and to my right.

And a constructed sound is to my right on the mid-line.

The other two directions are:

When you are talking to someone, discreetly watch their eyes.  When you ask a question, where does their glance immediately go?  The movements can be very subtle and very quick.

The up-middle-down positions are generally reliable but the left-right allocation is not. The pattern illustrated is the most common for a "normally organised, right-handed" person but by no means universal.  Some people cross over with, say, constructed images on the right but with feelings on the left.  Careful observation of responses to suitable questions is necessary to "calibrate" an individual's pattern.

You have to be careful here because many people use the visual system as their first reference.  So, "What's your favourite piece of music?" might cause them to recall the album cover first and the sounds a while afterwards!  The eye movements will follow this sequence and with practice you'll be able to spot the double movement.

The simplest way to use these indicators is when someone's glance doesn't go where you might have expected it to.  So, for example, if you ask someone for information, you might expect their eyes to go upwards as they search for the appropriate memory.  If they look down then you will know that something's wrong and you should proceed sensitively.  Perhaps the issue is embarrassing for them.  Perhaps they resent the question!

Of course, many people know this unconsciously and we talk about being "downcast" if we're sad.

With people you know well, you've probably already calibrated them, unconsciously, to some extent.  You know how they normally respond when you talk about certain subjects - and eye movements are a key part of the response.  You notice them without knowing you've noticed!

Now you know how you do it you'll be able to develop the skill and enhance your face-to-face communication.