A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that our obsession with and overuse of mobile devices is resulting in the decline of eye contact. “It feels like this is happening more than ever – in meetings, at the dinner table, even at intimate cocktail parties,” say reporter Sue Shellenbarger in her article, Just Look Me in the Eye Already: The Workplace Perils of Staring at Our Phones and Elsewhere (Wall Street Journal May 29, 2013)
Eye contact is a powerful communication tool
Research shows that during conversations, adults make eye contact 30-60% of the time, well below the 60-70% needed to foster a feeling of emotional connection. Watch this humorous and informative short video about the importance of eye contact and how breaking eye contact to check’s one mobile device is part of the problem.
Here is the transcription of the video, which was conveniently shared by the video creator, GeoBeats.
- Looking people in the eye is losing popularity, which is not a great thing because it’s a pretty powerful communication tool.
- A Texas-based analytics company reported that during conversations adults make eye contact 30 to 60 percent of the time. In order to foster a feeling of emotional connection, 60 to 70 percent is needed.
- Experts believe a big reason for the decline is the increased use of mobile devices.
- Between people’s desires to multitask and the diminished need for physical presence at a job or in a meeting, face-to-face conversations aren’t what they used to be.
- In-person social situations are being affected as well. Breaking eye contact and conversation to check one’s phone for texts, posts, and tweets has become more common.
- Locking eyes says a lot. Confidence, respect, conviction, and status are all conveyed by a steady gaze.
- Don’t stare, though — that’s creepy. Prolonged looking is often perceived as a threat and can make people feel uncomfortable. It also conveys signals of dishonesty, as forcing extended eye contact can be used for deceitful purposes.
Making eye contact with your audience during presentations
Public speaking anxiety also triggers reduced eye contact. Many people feel uncomfortable being in front of a room with a crowd of people looking at them. Nervous presenters often worry about forgetting information and begin to anchor their eye contact in odd places, such as on their notes, on their PowerPoint slides, over the heads of their audience, or turned inward as if scanning the working memory files of their brain.
In my presentation skills training workshops, we practice quality eye contact as a high engagement technique. It not only allows you to read your audience, it also allows you to exchange positive energy with them. Watch this short video excerpt from a recent workshop that I conducted with the R&D team at Bayer HealthCare. You’ll hear a comical reference to Bayer Aspirin.
Eye contact when you are networking
You’ll want to pay attention to your eye contact when you network face to face. If you are attending large networking events, don’t be the one scanning the room for better prospects. Don’t spend your time looking at the carpet, the food, or the artwork.
Make the effort to have quality eye contact with the person with whom you are networking by looking them in the eye.
Also, take the time to look at their name tag and their business card. Link their name to a unique aspect of their face (something that won’t change over time.) Notice the color of their eyes.
Blink every 7-10 seconds to achieve a break from prolonged eye contact. Notice how often they blink their eyes.
Take notice of the left eye, you will be looking at the person’s true self
I have found it difficult to simultaneously look at both eyes of someone that I am networking with. I seem to only be able to focus on one eye at at time. But which eye I should I look at? Is there a difference between the right and left eye?
In his online article The Power of the Left Eye, William Henderson, author of The Science of Soulmates, makes the case for looking at the LEFT eye of people you are communicating with.
“Psychologists in the field of social interaction tell us that as we talk or look at a person’s face, our eyes scan both the other persons eyes, then to other parts of the face, then back to the eyes again. However, from years of observation I noticed that we only concentrate on the right eye. We may scan both, but we only take notice of the right eye. You can prove this to yourself by deliberately looking at someone’s LEFT eye while in conversation, or upon meeting. Once you do this, you will realize how “unnatural” this is. You will literally have to force yourself to do it. You will habitually go back to only taking notice of the right eye! Incredibly, human beings have a subconscious agreement not to take notice of the personality in the left eye!” “Because of the crossover, our LEFT eye imagery goes to our right brain. The left eye therefore, is literally the window to the soul and the indicator of the hidden, unmasked true self.”
Confused? Here’s an easy way to remember:
- Wear your name tag on your RIGHT SIDE. This allows more comfortable visibility of the name tag because you are shaking hands with your right hand and the line of sight to the right hand of the body.
- Make your primary eye contact with their LEFT EYE, allowing deeper connection. If you are standing face to face, their left eye will be generally opposite your right eye.
Your Networking Tip for the Week
Increase the quality of your eye contact this week, at work and at home.
Start by powering down your mobile device. Put it out of sight and turn off any pinging or buzzing sounds that might distract you.
Increase your presence by making quality eye contact. Soften your face, reducing any tension that you may be holding there. Breathe in and out through your nose. Allow your eyes to smile as you make contact with people. Make it your intention to connect with them on a deeper level.
Blink naturally; don’t force anything. Communicate with your eyes, even without saying a word.
You are present. You are listening. You are connected.