Whether it’s professional or personal, lets face it… the eyes are not something to pass off lightly.
“The eyes are the windows to your soul.”
Various cultures throughout the ages have understood just how important eyes are with a keen wisdom in sayings passed down from generation to generation.
“What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.”
How can conventional wisdom forget this so often? Would you want to be perceived as unkind, needy, clueless or incompetent? What about creepy, intrusive, awkward, or having low self-esteem?
“The face is the portrait of the mind; the eyes, its informers
So often in our culture of fake, plastered on smiles, it’s fairly common to note that the eyes are often neglected. This may be an effect of insincerity, a fast pace, disinterest, being too busy to pay attention or even not being that aware of the effect your own eye contact has on others. It can truly damage, negate or enhance interactions.
I recently attended a family celebration and a distant relative who I had not seen for many years greeted me in a fascinating way. She extended her hand.
Okay, so no attempt at a hug – which for a second threw me for a loop but I rolled with it. Hey, I’m a pretty flexible thinker!
And then she shook not my hand as is customary but ONLY one-finger! When was the last time that happened to you? I can’t even remember if ever!
So I rolled with that response too but what both surprised and stunned me was in watching what her eyes did from that point on. She leaned in for the one-finger shake and said, “Nice to see you,” all while looking at the horizon behind me. I gave her the benefit of the doubt thinking maybe something was in one of her eyes. Or someone was trying to get her attention or maybe a flash of the most atrocious outfit just walked by or maybe her stomach was rumbling and servers with luscious tidbits were beckoning her.
“The eyes can do a thousand things that the fingers can’t.”
Alright maybe I’m a bit sensitive about the power of eye contact since it’s a part of what I teach people to do but in this case the lack of connection caught me off guard. You see I had been well prepared to encounter this woman but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that her avoidance would be so obvious. Couldn’t she have at least tried to be available even for moment? Maybe even with a bit of shared eye contact?
Re-playing the moment in my head, I’ve wondered if I would’ve carried away another reaction if she had looked at me straight on? I’d like to believe that I’m not invisible unless I choose to be. Here I was fully available for whatever was to transpire and that plan went poof into the ethers. A bit of eye contact, even for a blip of a moment, would have added something to the dynamics of the connection, like a morsel of respect, instead of taking away from it even more.
If this had been a professional or business situation, not giving eye contact might even cost you a lot of money that would be left behind on the table instead of you receiving it. How many times have you decided you didn’t want to do business with or even hire someone who didn’t give you eye contact? Would you want to work with them at all or dread every moment you had to?
“The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.”
Side-to-side furtive glances might lead you to believe a person as untrustworthy. A focus on something else beside the shared conversation might appear as if they were bored or not paying attention or even convey a lack of commitment. Would you want someone like this on your team? Would you want to be in a relationship with them? Or would you avoid anything to do with them at all costs?
In some settings, like speed networking events or even fundraisers, would you want to do business with or donate money if the eye contact lagged? It should be noted that the aforementioned woman who lacked eye contact is in her own right quite a successful fixture at many high-powered soirees. And with all of her years of practice, she definitely knows how to work a room. Flitting from person to person chatting them up. And leaving in her wake a lasting impression of being quite friendly but what exactly was the point of the conversation? Was there a memorable leave behind where you felt compelled to get to know her more?
Perhaps in certain settings that works well but for those of us who at times feel a bit isolated, spending way too much time in the digital world and still value connections with others, a lack of eye contact would definitely off-put any interaction.
“One’s eyes are what one is, one’s mouth is what one becomes.
If we want to show up as someone who is competent, trustworthy and available for connection, our eyes and what we do with them is imperative. Professionally, I’ve worked with the elements of communication for a few decades as a writer, consultant and as a speech language pathologist. And I must say that without a doubt the eyes have it.
Working with social communication skills such as in the disorders of Autism Spectrum, Attention Deficit and other jigsaw puzzle social communication issues, there’s an emphasis of honing in on just how important eye contact is for engaging and connecting with others. The developer of “Social Thinking,” Michelle Garcia Winner has coined the technique of “thinking with your eyes” to help people who aren’t comfortable with making eye contact develop some skills for doing so. Lets face it, we live in a social world whether we notice or not. Even when we’re in line at the grocery store, we can’t escape it. And eye contact, simple and ordinary non-verbal power, is a big part of that.
Can you remember a time when a stranger passed you on the street and gave you the most genuine, happy smile that turned your ho hum day around? Or how the impact of someone’s kind head nod in line let you know to go ahead with your two items? Or the hand wave of thanks for letting another driver go into the lane they couldn’t get to because no one else was letting them in? All of these simple, everyday actions couldn’t have been managed without effective eye contact.
There’s a lot of training going on about communication in most types of businesses. Whether it’s for customer service, management team meetings, internal communication protocols, external communication outreach for customers, vendors, staff and well, yes, you can’t escape it. It’s everywhere!
Communication is pretty complicated when you break it down neurologically. Your brain is a warehouse of continuous signals being received and sent. But to simplify this process, in all communication endeavors there is a “sender” and a “receiver.” A typical model of encoding and decoding shared communication is highlighted below in the 4 Components of Communication:
- Formulation: the gathering of ideas or thoughts to share (sender)
- Transmission: to process used to convey ideas or thoughts (sender)
- Reception: to receive information from one person (receiver)
- Comprehension: to make sense or understand the message (receiver)
When the intended signal is infringed upon by a lack or less than present eye contact, there is generally a negative impact on the sender, the receiver or both parties about the message. It also breaches how each person engages and feels. The take away becomes an unpleasant, non-memorable or extremely disappointing interaction.
Would that be your choice?
Have you ever been put off by someone and didn’t know what to make of it? Or not trust someone? Or choose to go elsewhere for business or hire someone else or say yes to another position just because something felt off? The eyes have itand tell us when a person is being guarded, unavailable, superficial, untruthful, shifty, or judgmental. We as humans sense and feel what is going on even if the words we hear say otherwise.
So if you want to up your quotient for being present, available and perceived as someone others want to have an alliance with tune into what you do with your own eyes. Remember, having optimum eye contact that’s genuine in how it’s perceived by others conveys peak performance, that you are someone to trust and ups the ante on your charisma! Here’s a checklist of questions to ponder:
- Is it hard for you to look someone in the eye?
- Have you gotten feedback that your eye contact is too penetrating or off-putting?
- What judgments come up for you when you run into: a) shifty eye, b) horizon seeker, c) doing something else more important than you at the moment, d) afraid to look at you or, e) (fill in the blank) encounter with someone?
- Do you look away when someone is giving you full-on eye contact, receiving every word you say, inviting you to show up as you are?
- What is going on inside of you when this happens?
- Do you consider yourself: a) easy going, b) high strung, c) controlling, d) judgmental, e) over-confident, f) pretty even keel, g) easily distracted, h) a team player, i) competitive, or, j) (fill in the blank!)
- Are you aware of the effect you have on others? Are they comfortable with you? Guarded? Needy? Frustrated? Helpful? Collaborative? Happy to see you? Avoiding you? Notice a lack of follow through? Strong commitment toward you? Or?
HERE’S SOME SECRET TIPS:
When you feel more confident, unstoppable and genuine with yourself, eye contact gets a whole lot easier!
When you become more flexible in the way you view things, you’ll be perceived as more approachable.
When you judge someone else, they feel it and will not enjoy being around you. Try making it about your own disappointment and not about them. That will shift things between you.