How Incompetent Trainers Have Allowed Facts to Be Misrepresented
Some time back I went to a training presented on detecting deception (and a few other related topics). The trainer was a retired police officer who taught several different approaches and perspectives, including one strategy that I, myself, had come up with some years ago (independently) based on one of Sun Tsu‘s principles. However, mid-way through, when talking about ways to recognize deception, he told a room full of 60+ counselors, correction officers, and managers, that NLP teaches that if people look up and to their right, they’re lying.
I have to admit, I got really agitated, because he was wrong in OH! so many ways! I thrashed around in my chair and at the next break, went up to speak with him, but he made it clear he wasn’t interested in having his facts (which were wrong on multiple levels) corrected. I had people coming up to me afterwards for clarification because they knew something was wrong with what he was saying, and I had to explain over and over what was going on.
He’s not alone in this. The movie The Negotiator from 1998, while dramatic as all get out, oversimplified the concept of eye accessing painfully and reinforced a popular myth about NLP and detecting lies, one that has become so pervasive that researchers in the UK felt it needful to debunk that myth with actual research. And I have to say, I do not blame them, not really. They’re wrong in that NLP does NOT claim a person who looks up and to the right is lying, but ignorant people who don’t really know NLP DO claim that NLP claims a person who looks up and right is lying. Sadly, there are more people that are ignorant of this than there should be.
The premise is this: people move their eyes as they speak or think because they are accessing different parts of their brain. A person who is is right handed will usually look up and to his left if he’s remembering a picture (note that I said usually–there are several categories of exception) and will frequently look up and to his right if he’s doing something with the pictures in his mind other than remembering them whole. He might be looking only at a cut-out in his mind’s eye, or he might be imagining cartoon characters, but he is somehow tweaking the pictures in his mind. Usually. Thus, when that fellow looks up and left, we say he’s accessing Visual Remembered and when he looks up and right we say he is accessing Visual Creative.
Here’s where people who were eager for an easy way to detect lies went and messed the whole thing up. Someone out there in the past thought, “Wow! So if a person is telling a story and he’s looking up and to his right, since that’s the creative part of his brain rather than the part storing the remembered pictures, he must be making it up. He must be lying!” There are several problems with this concept.
One of those problems is that we humans are a varied lot. Some people who are left handed will access in ways opposite of someone right handed. Some people are ambidextrous. When you have an individual like this, you have to TEST the individual. Don’t try to make every human being fit the exact same pattern.
Another problem is that different people have different strategies for remembering events. There are people who do not watch the movies of their memories whole–they only watch parts of it, or they see themselves in the picture rather than see it from their eye view, or they have such poor accessing strategies that they remember it fuzzy and blurred. That actually happens. I worked with a boy once who’d been labeled learning disabled who had a hard time telling stories of what had happened recently. I noticed that when he tried to tell the story, he would look up and to his right and couldn’t get started. I coached him on how to look up and to his left and suggested he start the story from the beginning and he was able to tell the whole story in proper sequence, which caused his mother to burst into tears. She’d feared he was either faking difficulty or actually brain damaged, when the problem was merely that he wasn’t using his brain in the most efficient way.
Thus, if you ask a person a story and he looks up and to his right, it doesn’t mean he’s lying at all. He might be lying, he might not.
The fact he looks up and to his right isn’t a direct indicator of anything other than that he’s working with the pictures in his brain. We humans are too varied, too creative, and FAR too complex to have a simple way to spot deception or emotionally sensitive issues. There are ways to improve your skill in that, most definitely, and, ironically, learning eye accessing (and learning it CORRECTLY) can be a useful tool towards that, but please don’t ever let anyone try to tell you that NLP teaches that if people look up and to their right, they’re lying. Please seek out GOOD training, because we want you to understand the facts accurately. That saves so much time, energy, and helps keep people focused on strategies and techniques that actually work, rather than misjudging others due to a sloppy misunderstanding of facts. Don’t get paranoid if a person looks up and to his right while talking to you. One of the more famous pictures of Walt Disney shows him doing exactly that!