Representations Systems or Rep Systems!


What is Representations Systems or Rep Systems in NLP?


In NLP, the term Representations Systems, or Rep Systems, refers to how we process the information through our five senses which is a blend of; sounds, images, feelings and self-talk – plus, to a limited degree, smells and tastes.


We each use a blend of the Rep Systems and yet will favour one of these of the systems more than the other.


This is because everything we experience is ‘represented’ internally in our nervous system. Without our being consciously aware of it our five senses are constantly receiving information about the world and processing within us.

Since the mind and body are part of an interactive system, so we cannot, have a thought without having a physical response to that thought.


The types of clues


There are external ‘clues’ which we can pay attention to, to identify how a person is thinking i.e. the words, eye movements or non verbal communication.


The three most used indicators are:

  • Predicates
  • Eye Accessing and
  • Non verbal communication


Predicates are the give-away words and phrases which people use the most. 


These maybe verbs, adverbs, adjectives or phrases, which people use in their conversations to express themselves. By carefully following and assessing the conversation, it will indicate which representational system they are more consciously or unconsciously utilising at that moment.


For example: I see what you mean (visual rep system). It sounds great (auditory rep system). Get a grip on things (kinaesthetic or feeling rep system), and so on.


The Eye Assessing clues are the directions in which people habitually look when they are thinking, processing or retrieving the information.


One of the many fruitful discoveries of NLP enables us to know how a person is thinking by watching how they move their eyes.


We can identify ‘how’ they are thinking. We cannot identify ‘what’ they are thinking. This is quite reassuring.


What are the ‘standard’ eye directions?


Move up and diagonally to the right or left – likely to be thinking in pictures.


  1. Staring fixedly ahead or somewhere in front – possibly thinking in pictures.
  2. Look horizontally left or right – might be thinking in sounds.
  3. Down and to their right – possibly thinking in feelings.
  4. Down and to their left – may be thinking analytically or sub-vocalising.


Are these NLP Eye Accessing Clues useful?


Yes, they are very useful. They may not be accurate but it certainly gives an idea how a person is thinking so, you can adapt your style of communication to suit them.


Can these clues mislead?


Yes these clues can mislead and even an experienced trainer can be misguided. Why? Because, in NLP we treat the set of standard eye directions simply as a hunch or working-hypothesis.  It is also something which the originators of NLP first warned against over 40 years ago. With the Eye Assessing clues, it is merely a guesswork which we need to substantiate, if the person in front of us matches or differs from the standard set of directions.


Remember 6 main prerequisites for Eye Assessing.


  1. Remember that eye movements mainly occur in relation to unfamiliar information – not to topics they are very familiar with or which have taken place recently.
  2. Take the time to develop skill in recognising the eye movements – especially the very subtle ones i.e. no more than a slight flicker of the eye.
  3. Clear mind is essential to pick up the clues. Use Soft Eyes rather than stare at the person.
  4. It’s important to nderstand that a person’s eye movements may not fit the general pattern. Some people will do it differently. For example; uncommonly, some people will have the Feelings and the Analytic Thinking sides reversed.
  5. Remember that a single eye movement means nothing. We are looking for a pattern i.e. where they look most frequently in a conversation.
  6. Welcome the fact that no-one ‘is’ visual or auditory or whatever permanently. Many people will exchange their Rep System from one situation to another. For example; your boss might do a lot of Analytical Thinking at work and switch to thinking ‘visually’ or in ‘feelings’ when he is at home.


How to develop Eye Assessing skill?


This can be fun to practice and can be a good party trick but, in everyday life, if you want to know if they are remembering or inventing a picture it’s easier to just… ask them. You can start practicing amongst your near ones to get a grip and understanding of the patterns.


Go for just three types of thinking to begin with:


  1. Pictures: Up and to the left or right – or staring ahead
  2. Feelings: Down and to their right
  3. Analysis and Self Talk: Down and to their left


You can refine things later. Spend few days watching for these three and you’ll soon be noticing the eye movements automatically.


An Important Tip: One thing is clear that when a person’s eyes are moving it indicates that they are thinking i.e. processing information.

This means that if you speak while their eyes are moving you may interrupt their thinking. If you are the type who want them to, ‘look at me when I’m talking to you’, you risk confusing them, preventing them from thinking clearly, or irritating them.


The rule: If a person’s eyes are moving you can wait until they have finished thinking so that you can have a good conversation. 


Non Verbal Accessing clues is another useful tool to gain information about a person’s inner processing from their voice rate and tempo and tone, breathing patterns, and even gestures. Just as any other skill, this too requires practice to be able to use them in everyday conversation, or in coaching or appraisal sessions.