Look into my eyes… more effectively

So let’s start this article with a teaser! According to ‘the internet’ should you find yourself in a situation when you are facing off with a stalking tiger, an angry lion, a snarling leopard or the news presenter Kay Burley, which should you stare down and which should you look away from?

I’ll give you the answer shortly, but the topic of eye contact is fascinating. In the animal kingdom, devoid of complex verbal communication, eye contact plays an integral role in communication. As humans we aren’t so well attuned. According to a 2017 pre-Valentines Day poll of 2,000 men, 1 in 10 could not remember the colour of their partner’s eyes…

So to answer the question, the internet says that you should stare down a lion or a tiger and look away from a leopard! As for the Sky New presenter, Kay Burley, I know the colour of her eyes (they are icy blue) not because she is my partner but rather because I’ve seen her inquisitive stare clearly intimidating lacklustre politicians who fall beneath her gaze.

A politician should stare her down, but as Lucy Frazer MP recently demonstrated to us all, thanks to an internet clip in circulation, it’s a lot easier to look away. The Culture Secretary seemed to do everything to avoid Kay’s gaze as if she had indeed encountered a leopard instead of a question about BBC bias.

When a politician can’t do eye contact, inevitable questions follow. What did this encounter say to the viewer? I was probably not the only thinking that the government minister was not the one in control, and that the TV news interviewer should probably be a government minister!

Tech-fuelled attention drain is a familiar sight to most of us who have seen the lights in the eyes of the person opposite diminish in favour of a lump of screen and plastic.  Personal impact is as much about what is going on, often subconsciously, with body language as it is about the flow of conversation.

That’s why eye contact is important. It creates a bond and transmits so many essential signals that build a relationship with the other person – openness, trust, assurance, empathy and plenty more emotional gold.

Inevitably eye contact is something that we do subconsciously, but it’s always useful to take a step back and observe how we are using our eyes. Once we notice how we and other people engage by using the eyes it becomes a very interesting study in human behaviour.

Particularly useful to observe is how those who seem to have magnetic personalities use body language. My tip for today is to look out for one of these people and quietly study how they use eye contact.  How long do they maintain it for? What signals do they wish to convey? Do they look away at unexpected moments? Do they appear comfortable making eye contact and what is the effect on the recipient (especially if that recipient is you)? How does either the lack of contact or the excessive, borderline staring, affect you? By noting eye contact in others, it becomes easier to understand how our own levels of optical connection (or lack thereof) affect others and whether we need to adjust anything. It is easy to shut down a conversation with body language, but unlocking a conversation with eye contact, now that’s a real skill to emulate!