The Eyes Have It: Five Keys for Effective Eye Contact
Most would agree that having quality eye contact is an advantage in life. It positively affects interpersonal relationships as well as workplace interactions. Here are five specific areas in which eye contact should be executed.
> Match with the verbal: In your initial approach to a new party or even someone with whom you already have established a relationship, eye contact should support what you are saying at the time. During an initial introduction to another person, you should make eye contact when stating your name. You should also be looking at the person when he/she states his/her name. Often, the close of a given interactive episode will conclude with a “thank you.” That is an opportunity to take leave of the person with a sincere expression of gratitude. When making a presentation to a group, part of effective public speaking is not reading directly off of one’s paper but to look up and engage the audience.
> Match with the nonverbal: Similarly, a key contribution to any interpersonal communication is the nonverbal. Two gestures that are most commonplace are the handshake and the smile. Shaking someone’s hand while looking over his shoulder will not engage the person. Furthermore, a smile combined with eye contact expresses that you want to be there. It shows interest and enthusiasm in what is being discussed. While this sounds basic, many job interviewees fail as a result of not attending to this. Consequently, the desire to work or be there is not conveyed.
> Don’t wander off: While making a positive first impression is part of the game, eye contact should not end with the handshake or initial introduction. While at times challenging, make a concerted effort to maintain eye contact throughout the conversation, be it formal or informal. Wandering off gives the impression that you are distracted, either from the discussion at hand or more generally.
> Don’t stare: Too much of a good thing is often counterproductive. Maintaining eye contact throughout an interaction is a reasonable goal. But if you don’t use selective diversion, you will come across as creepy and that will be a turnoff.
> Don’t leave anyone out: In many of our interactions, we are not communicating one-on-one but one-to-many. Focusing one’s eye contact and attention on a single person to the exclusion of the others will indicate that you are ignoring them and give the impression that you are not validating their presence. This can happen when interviewing with a panel or when you are making a presentation to a group. Make an effort to scan the room. We tend to focus on those who are either familiar to us or who we believe are the most influential people in the room. Sometimes, our guess of who is most influential will be correct; sometimes, we will guess incorrectly. But, even if you are correct, the others in the room, who might very well be your co-workers, will play some role in the hiring process. Or they might end up being your co-workers and, as such, are formulating their first impressions of you.
It goes without saying that eye contact that is devoid of substance will not be totally effective. As most things go, it is a package deal.