Have you ever been in one of those awkward situations where you feel tense, the other person is tense and, as the stilted conversation continues, things become more and more tense and uncomfortable for both of you?
This ‘conversational tension’ was the bane of my life in my early days as a trainee accountant and office manager – this was back in my late teens and early twenties and well before I’d discovered NLP. (And even before NLP was invented, too.)
Although group meetings were okay I really dreaded those one to one meetings where it was just the two of you: I’d just want to escape, to be anywhere other than where I was.
Some people deal with this ‘conversational tension’ by avoiding such face-to-face situations and stick to email or the phone. Others do it by creating a wall of talk which they hide behind: they simply talk at the other person. Neither method is satisfactory because good professional and personal relationships require face-to-face conversation.
Back then I had no idea what I could do to change things. It wasn’t comfortable. Yes, things did improve slightly with experience and simply because, like it or not, face-to-face communication was important in my work. So I had to get on with it however uncomfortable it may have been.
Happily, when I began attending NLP workshops about a decade later I came across a method that worked for me and still does.
It’s called Soft Eyes and is not even a ‘proper’ NLP technique – it actually comes from martial arts. But it’s so effective and has so many applications that we’ve been teaching it on our own entry-level NLP courses since 1999 – that’s over 16 years.
Soft Eyes is a blend of two ways of seeing: peripheral vision and foveal vision…
This is wide vision. It’s what you see somewhat un-clearly when you look ahead and notice how wide your field of vision can be. Incidentally, peripheral vision is ideal for noticing movement so when you combine it with narrow, or foveal vision, to create Soft Eyes this becomes a useful skill in sport and in working with groups as a trainer o teacher.
Try it: sit somewhere where there is movement going on around you such as a park or café. Look straight ahead but without focusing. Do not move your eyes to the right or left. Take in your full field of vision simultaneously. Soon you’ll start recognising the movements around you.
(Incidentally, since peripheral vision is a little ‘spacey’ and inhibits self-talk it’s a good idea to only do this for a few minutes at a time – and never whilst driving.)
This is the type of vision which we mostly use in everyday life. You’re using Foveal vision when you stare or peer closely at something such as a book or computer screen. It’s great for noticing detail. And doing it all day long can cause eye strain, headaches, tension in the neck and shoulders, and breath-holding.
When you’ve got used to using peripheral vision begin practising Soft Eyes. Look at something without staring or focussing sharply. See it while keeping some peripheral vision. You will now be aware of wider field of vision than normal.
You looking at it in a very relaxed manner and the muscles in your forehead and around your eyes will be more relaxed. If you are looking at a person you’re not focussing sharply on, say, their eyes but on all of them. This enables you to see the movement of their arms and legs and even their breathing – making great for recognising subtle body language.
Practise it for a minute of two every hour. After a few days it may become your new, natural, and very relaxed, way of seeing more but without effort.
At first, in face-to-face communicating use Soft Eyes for the first minute or two of a conversation so you don’t get distracted from the purpose of the conversation.
You’re likely to find this method is great at relaxing your eyes, face and even your breathing. In fact, it makes it almost impossible to become tense or edgy. And, since you are relaxing and in rapport with the them, the other person will pick this up and do the same.
(Note: This article was first published on 1st April 2013. It has now been updated and extended.)