The Language of Eye Movements: How to Read Others' Thoughts by Their Gestures
Leon Alexander, president of Eurisko
Have you ever wondered what your customers are thinking? The ability to read minds has been a pursuit of mankind for eternity. To date we still cannot read another human’s mind, but we can have a reasonable incite into the implications of customers thoughts by studying some simple rules regarding their body language.
Body language has been around a long time. You can tell a lot about someone by observing his or her hand gestures, general body movements, voice intonation, modulation and inflection, when answering poignant questions, the content of what they are saying and facial movements. Many people have succeeded in controlling their hands, words and body language to make it hard to accurately read them. Interviews are a perfect example where an individual is self-conscious and presents an unnatural façade.
There is one feature that we cannot control; it’s our eye movement. When we are asked to visualize a blue elephant, we look up to the right. We are creating a vision of something we haven’t seen. Contrarily when we are asked to visualize our last vacation we look up to the left to recall that vacation as a past event. When asked to visualize a stranger speaking in a Donald Duck accent, we look sideways to the right. We are creating the sound in our mind. When asked to recall our favorite music, we look sideways to the left. When asked to imagine the feeling of touching silk, we will look down to the left and when asked to create an emotion we have never experienced before, we will look down to the right.
Visual, kinesthetic and emotional questions create different eye movement effects. When we combine eye movement with the dilation and constriction of the person’s pupils, with their body language, hand movement, voice content, modulation and intonation, we get a fairly accurate picture of the real situation that the person is attempting to use a façade to disguise.Throughout history, we have been preoccupied with the eye and its effect on human behavior. We have all used such phrases as “She looked daggers at him,” “She has big baby eyes,” “He has shifty eyes,” “She has inviting eyes,” “He had that gleam in his eye” or “He gave me the ‘Evil Eye.’” When we use these phrases we unwittingly refer to the size of the person’s pupils and to his or her gaze behavior. The eyes may well give the most revealing and accurate of all human communication signals because they are a focal point on the body and the pupils work independently.
In given light conditions, the pupils will dilate or constrict as the person’s attitude and mood change from positive to negative and vice versa. When someone becomes excited, his pupils can dilate up to four times their normal size. Conversely, an angry, negative mood causes the pupils to contract to what are commonly known as ‘beady little eyes’ or “snake eyes.” The eyes are used a lot in courtship; women use eye make-up to emphasize their eye display. If a woman loves a man, she will dilate her pupils at him and he will decode this signal correctly, without knowing he does so. For this reason, romantic encounters are often arranged in dimly lit places that cause the pupils to dilate.
Young lovers who look deeply into each other’s eyes unknowingly look for pupil dilation; each becomes excited by the dilation of the other’s pupils. Research has shown that when pornographic films are shown to men, their pupils can dilate to almost three times the normal size. When the same films are shown to women their pupil dilation is even greater than that recorded by the men, which raises some doubt about the statement that women are less stimulated by pornography than men.
Young babies and children have larger pupils than adults and their pupils constantly dilate when adults are present in an attempt to look as appealing as possible and thus receive constant attention.
Tests conducted with expert card player’s show that fewer games were won by the experts when their opponents wore dark glasses. For example, if an opponent were dealt four aces in a game of poker, his rapid pupil dilation would be unconsciously detected by the expert, who would get a feeling that he should not bet on the next hand. Dark glasses worn by the opponents eliminated pupil signals and as a result the experts won fewer games than usual.
The ancient Chinese gem traders who watched for the pupil dilation of their buyers when negotiating prices centuries ago used pupil watching. Prostitutes put drops of belladonna in their eyes to dilate their pupils and to make themselves appear more desirable. The late Aristotle Onassis was noted for wearing dark glasses when negotiating business deals so that his eyes would not reveal his thoughts.
An old cliché says, “Look a person in the eye when you talk to him.” When you are communicating or negotiating with others, practice “looking them in the pupil” and let the pupils tell you their real feelings.
It is only when you see “eye to eye” with another person that a real basis for communication can be established. While some people can make us feel quite comfortable when they converse with us, others can make us feel “ill at ease and some seem untrustworthy.” This has to do primarily with the length of time that they look at us or hold our gaze as they speak. When a person is being dishonest or holding back information his eyes meet ours less than one-third of the time. When a person’s gaze meets ours for more than two thirds of the time, it can mean one of two things; first, he or she finds us very interesting or appealing, in which case the gaze will be associated with dilated pupils; secondly, he or she is hostile towards you and may be issuing a non-verbal challenge, in which case the pupils will become constricted. When person A like’s person B, he will look at him a lot. This causes B to think that A likes him.
Like most body language and gestures, the length of time that one person gazes at another is culturally determined. Southern Europeans have a high frequency of gaze that may be offensive to others and the Japanese gaze at the neck rather than at the face when conversing. We have to consider cultural circumstances before jumping to conclusions.
Not only is the length of the gaze significant; just as important is the geographical area of the person’s face and body at which you direct your gaze, as this also affects the outcome of a negotiation. These signals are transmitted and received non-verbally and are accurately interpreted by the receiver.
The following eye techniques can be effectively used to improve your communication skills:
The Business Gaze
When having discussions on a business level, imagine that there is a triangle on the other person’s forehead. By keeping your gaze directed at this area, you create a serious atmosphere and the other person senses that you mean business. Provided that your gaze does not drop below the level of the other person’s eyes, you are able to maintain control of the interaction.
The Social Gaze
When the gaze drops below the other person’s eye level, a social atmosphere develops. Experiments into gazing reveal that during social encounters the gazer’s eyes also look in a triangular area on the other person’s face, in this case between the eyes and the mouth.
The Intimate Gaze
The gaze is across the eyes and below the chin to other parts of the person’s body. In close encounters it is the triangular area between the eyes and the chest or breasts and for distant gazing from the eyes to the crotch. Men and women use this gaze to show interest in each other and those who are interested will return the gaze.
The sideways glance is used to communicate either interest or hostility. When it is combined with slightly raised eyebrows or a smile, it communicates interest and is frequently used as a courtship signal. If it is combined with down-turned eyebrows, furrowed brow or the corners of the mouth down-turned, it signals a suspicious, hostile or critical attitude.
The area of the other person’s body upon which you direct your gaze can have a powerful effect on the outcome of any face-to-face encounter. If you were a manager who was going to reprimand a lazy employee, which gaze would you use? If you used the social gaze, the employee would take less heed of your words, regardless of how loud or threatening you sounded. The social gaze would take the sting out of your words and the intimate gaze would either intimidate or embarrass the employee. The business gaze is the appropriate one to use, as it has a powerful effect on the receiver and tells him that you are serious.
What men describe as the “come-on” look that women use relates to a sideways glance and an intimate gaze. If a man or woman wants to play hard to get, he or she needs only avoid using the intimate gaze and instead use the social gaze. To use the business gaze during courting would cause a man or woman to be labeled as cold or unfriendly. The point is that when you use the intimate gaze on a potential partner, you give the game away. Women are expert at sending and receiving this type of gaze but unfortunately, most men are not. Men are usually obvious when they use the intimate gaze and they are generally unaware of having been given an intimate gaze, much to the frustration of the woman who has transmitted it.
Eye Block Gesture
Some of the most irritating people with whom we deal are those who use the eye -block gesture as they speak. This gesture occurs unconsciously and is an attempt by the person to block you from his sight because he has become bored or uninterested in you or feels that he is superior to you. Compared to the normal rate of six to eight blinks per minute during conversation, the eyelids close and remain closed for a second or longer as the person momentarily wipes you from his mind. The ultimate block out is to leave the eyes closed and to fall asleep, but this rarely happens during one-to-one encounters.
If a person feels superior to you, the eye block gesture is combined with the head tilted backwards to give you a long look, commonly known as “looking down one’s nose.” When you see an eye block gesture during a conversation, it is a signal that the approach you are using may be causing a negative reaction and that a new tack is needed if effective communication is to take place.
Controlling a Person’s Gaze
It is worth discussing at this point how to control a person’s gaze when you are giving him a visual presentation using books, charts, graphs and so on. Research shows that of the information relayed to a person’s brain, 87 per cent comes via the eyes, 9 per cent via the ears, and 4 per cent via the other senses. If, for example, the person is looking at your visual aid as you are speaking, he will absorb as little as 9 per cent of your message if the message is not directly related to what he sees. If the message is related to the visual aid, he will absorb only 25 to 30 per cent of your message if he is looking at the visual aid. To maintain maximum control of his gaze, use a pen or pointer to point to the visual aid and at the same time verbalize what he sees. Next, lift the pen from the visual aid and hold it between his eyes and your own eyes.
This has the magnetic effect of lifting his head so that he is looking at your eyes and now he sees and hears what you are saying, thus achieving maximum absorption of your message. Be sure that the palm of your other hand is visible when you are speaking.
There are many opportunities in the beauty industry to observe a customer, employee or product representative. Studying their eye movements and dilation of pupils will help you understand how they best receive information. If they are more visual, show them what you want them to see. If they are more auditory, tell them what you want them to hear. If they are more kinesthetic, use emotive words related to what you want them to absorb. Favoring a communication style from the above doesn’t preclude using the other two. It just means your presentation or communication leans to the most effective absorption rate of the individual receiver.
Everything is in the eye of the beholder!