DOES EYE CONTACT REALLY MATTER?
I think we can all remember our parents or first mentors sharing the important skill of “establishing eye contact”. “Look a person in the eye….” was a mandatory business mantra. But, is making eye contact really that important in our interactions?
“As any speaker will tell you, when you address a large number of people from a stage, you try to make eye contact with people in the audience to communicate that you’re accessible and interested in them.”
We can begin with a quick look at the reasons that eye contact is so important.
Talented communicators regard their eye contact skills as an important asset. But why is it that the ability to maintain eye contact is so terribly important? Why do so many people seem to pay more attention to what the eyes of a person say than listening to what the person expresses with their voice?
Research indicates that by maintaining a healthy level of eye contact during an interaction, you improve the quality of that conversation. Not only will the person you’re speaking to feel a higher level of connection with you, but they will also consider you as a more competent and trustworthy individual. Unless you are staring……then be prepared for a call to the police!
If you’ve ever been in sales you know that the way you use eye contact with other people can greatly influence the outcome of these interactions. If you are unable to maintain even the slightest level of eye contact, the results of your interactions may suffer. At the same time, if you skillfully manage to make eye contact – without staring aggressively – you will most likely be more successful in conveying your ideas.
EYE CONTACT SIGNALS ATTENTION:
If you’ve ever spoken to someone who did not look at you while you were speaking, you know how irritating it feels. It clearly signals that the other person is not interested in you and what you have to say. In short, speaking to someone who does not look at you feels like you’re talking to a wall.
Maintaining eye contact whenever someone speaks to you signals that you’re paying attention to what they say and also that you are interested in what they are saying. By looking at others when they speak, they become your full center of attention. It will show your counterpart that you respect them and that you are interested in what they say. Eye contact shows respect in a mutual conversation.
EYE CONTACT = CONFIDENCE AND TRUST:
Admittedly, it takes confidence to maintain eye contact with the person you’re speaking to. This is especially true when you are giving a presentation. In most situations, the temptation to let your eyes wander around is quite appealing. You can “sweep” the audience but don’t gaze off into the sunset….it can signal that you are disengaged or bored with your topic.
By maintaining eye contact, others will be more likely to perceive you as a competent and trustworthy person.
EYE CONTACT IS ENGAGING:
When you do not look others in the eyes when you speak, it can come across as if you are having a monologue. Your counterparts will feel as if you’re not interested in having a real exchange with them.
You can avoid all this by maintaining eye contact when you speak. Doing so invites your listeners to actively participate in the discussion.
In short, keeping eye contact will encourage your listeners to become active participants in the conversation.
EYE CONTACT = CONFIDENCE:
As surprising as it sounds, maintaining eye contact when you speak will make you feel more confident about yourself. At the same time, the way you behave and speak will become more assertive and convincing.
Naturally, becoming more confident by looking others in the eyes is not something that happens immediately. In the beginning, keeping a higher level of eye contact will feel a bit awkward. It may take a bit to become comfortable with your level of eye contact……once used to it you will feel much more confident.
TIPS FOR IMPROVING EYE CONTACT SKILLS:
The good news is that eye contact can be learned just like any other skill. If you feel that you are struggling to maintain eye contact in conversations – especially when you’re talking – the following will be of great help to you. Admittedly, it takes a little practice to be able to confidently hold eye contact with someone you’re speaking to. But if you are willing to practice and strengthen your eye contact skills regularly, you will be able to see improvements in your day-to-day life.
Improving your eye contact skills is not difficult. In fact, you can affect positive changes quite easily in a relatively short time.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE:
Balance is of great importance when it comes to eye contact. Effective eye contact is curious, appropriate and balanced. When you overdo it, it’s perceived as aggressive and/or overly dominant. If you stare at people when they speak, you can make them quite uncomfortable. Again, the police issue here:)
Always ask yourself what kind of eye contact is appropriate in the particular situation you are in. You don’t want to hold too much eye contact as this can look pretty creepy. As general rules of thumb, consider these eye contact guidelines:
- When you’re listening: maintain eye contact 2/3 of the time
- When you’re talking: maintain eye contact 1/3 of the time
Whether you are a master at this skill or just beginning to take note of it’s importance, practice is key. Use friends or family and note how often you make eye contact with them during the course of a conversation. It may feel incredibly uncomfortable at first…….keep trying.
Have any of you had occasion to use this skill in business? Do you teach it to your young kiddos? Have any great tips?
Have the best day!