The Importance of Eye Contact

Some people are quite happy to do it while others find it uncomfortable, and some people just don’t know when to stop. How about you? Do you do eye contact?
Much has been written about the importance of the eyes when it comes to body language. Without saying a word, the eyes can convey a great deal. One only has to think of how a mime artist uses their eyes to great effect and universal understanding; wide for surprise, narrow for anger, brows furrowed for confusion…

The Eyes Have it!
Using the eyes helps to forge an instant connection and has a powerful effect when it comes to encouraging or persuading others. A high level of eye contact creates an impression that the you are interested and attentive and this should not be ignored in business dealings. Even if we’re buying or selling the dullest product on the planet, we all like to feel like we are interesting!

It is well documented that people who use eye contact while speaking are perceived to be more trustworthy and reliable. Perhaps it’s easier to put this into context by looking at it from the other side – people who avoid eye contact can unnerve us. It’s as if they have something to hide…

That said, we are all aware of how awkward eye contact can be sometimes. Hands up if you’ve been lost in your own thoughts and suddenly come to the realisation that you have been staring at (without actually seeing) a person across the room or, more alarmingly, on public transport?

As effective as eye contact is as a communication tool, overusing it can be just as bad as none at all, especially if there isn’t much blinking going on! In fact, overdo the gaze and eye contact becomes eyeballing and appears as aggressive behaviour.

Train Yourself for Better Eye Contact
The trick is to make eye contact without overdoing it in a business situation. One of the godfathers of public speaking training, Dale Carnegie (author of How to win Friends and Influence People), suggested looking into a person’s eyes for long enough to note their colour before looking away.

Psychologist Kevin Dutton suggests that in an everyday conversation the speaker will look at the listener around 45% of the time and the listener will look at the speaker around 75/80% of the time. If the speaker raises their level of eye contact to around 70% they are much more likely to influence their listener.

In my experience, the key to good eye contact is crucial to establishing rapport and trustworthiness and is also a mark of good manners. Never, ever, shake anyone’s hand without making eye contact. And probably most importantly, when sharing a drink omit making eye contact at the point of saying ‘cheers’ at your peril, especially if they are French!

So using eye contact effectively can yield dividends on an interpersonal level. However, my final tip is to keep your eye manoeuvres for the human world as crossing into the animal kingdom can cause complications. For example staring down a black bear may just save your life (it will feign an attack to judge you and standing your ground may call their bluff), while doing the same to a Grizzly will endanger it (it will perceive your stare as a sign of aggression – so curl up in the foetal position and play dead instead).

Of course the visual challenge in a bear attack situation is using your eyes to work out whether you are a up against a Black bear or a Grizzly in the first place!

Luan de Burgh

August 2016

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.