NLP, short for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, was originally developed as a way to integrate communication and therapy in order to better treat disorders such as phobias, depression, psychosomatic illnesses and learning challenges. Today, it is a tool used by law enforcement officers, military personnel and even border patrol to uncover possible deception in a suspect or witness.
The basics of the technique are quite simple and everyday people can easily learn the same skill – a worthwhile endeavor as neuro-linguistic programming has been shown to enhance rapport and strengthen communication.
Developed in the early 1970s by University of California researchers, Dr. Richard Bandler and Dr. John Grinder, neuro-linguistic programming describes the interplay between the mind (neuro) and language (linguistics) and how that exchange influences our body and behavior (programming).
The foundation of neuro-linguistic programming rests on the principle that we experience the world through our five senses: vision, sound, touch, taste and smell. Our minds process experiences based on these senses, however, proclivities vary among individuals. You may process an experience more from sight, while another person may process the same experience based on sound.
Neuro-linguistic programming identifies three Representational Systems from which we process, store and recall memories and information.
- Visual – everything we see
- Auditory – everything we hear
- Kinesthetic – everything we feel, touch, taste and smell
For instance, take a moment and recall a happy experience, let’s say, a warm day at the beach.
What is the first thing that came into your head? Was it the color of the water and the way the sunlight reflected off the crashing waves? If so, your preference is a Visual Representation System. Or perhaps you thought of how the sand felt squished between your toes, or whether it was hot or cold (Kinesthetic Representation System).
If you immediately heard the sound of seagulls and playing children then you more than likely lead with an Auditory Representation System.
Neuro-linguistic programming maintains that, “everyone lives in their own unique model of the world.” Even so, there are commonalities we can depend on when it comes to understanding an individual’s thought processes and whether or not there could be deception involved.
To see how this works, pay attention to your eye movements while answering the following questions:
- Where were you when you had your first kiss? (Did your eyes shift up and to the left?)
- What does your mother’s voice sound like when she is angry? (Did your eyes shift horizontally to the left?)
- How would the Eiffel Tower look if it were wrapped in colored Christmas lights? (Did your eyes shift up and to the right?)
If your eyes shifted in the directions indicated, you have a “normally oriented” thought process. Don’t worry if they didn’t; many people have reversed, or mixed, orientations. For instance, if you are left-handed you may have reversed the pattern, and instead of looking up and to the left when asked the first question, you may have looked up and to the right.
Following are the typical meanings of eye movements:
Eyes shifting up and to the left indicate recalling something visually. It is something the person has seen before, as they are able to remember it. Law enforcements officials use this eye movement to help verify that a person is telling the truth.
Eyes shifting up and to the right indicate creating something visually. For instance, the third question would generally provoke a shift up and to the right because most people haven’t actually seen the Eiffel Tower decorated in Christmas lights; it is something they have to imagine in their mind’s eye. This eye movement clues law enforcement officers into the possibility that someone may be lying if they are “creating,” rather than “remembering” an event.
- Eyes shifting horizontally to the left indicate remembering a sound.
- Eyes shifting horizontally to the right indicate creating a sound.
- Eyes shifting down and to the right indicate retrieving a feeling or emotion.
- Eyes shifting down and to the left indicate internal dialogue, such as “I can’t believe I did it again!”
While we may not be able to read the content of someone’s thoughts, we can use the above technique to understand how they process their thoughts. You can use this technique to your advantage: Communicating ideas in the same sequence as others helps develop rapport.
Vincent Sandoval and Susan Adams demonstrate the power of neuro-linguistic programming in an FBI publication detailing how to use NLP in interviews:
“By being conscious of the process and the benefits associated with neuro-linguistic programming, interviewers can use these techniques to their advantage. By matching interviewees’ nonverbal behavior, and the manner in which they say something, and even their choice of words, interviewers can increase rapport and enhance communications. As a result, the potential for gaining crucial information needed to help resolve investigations improves significantly.”
Remember: not everyone operates according to normal orientation. It is important to establish a baseline to determine an individual’s orientation.
Once you know the direction in which they move their eyes when remembering versus imagining sounds and visuals, you will be better able to break down their communication processes and truthfulness.