Apr 29, 201412:03 PMOpen for Business
with Jody Glynn Patrick
What you need to know about eye contact
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During first introductions, brief but direct eye contact sends an unconscious signal to people that you respect them (or are confident of yourself in the situation). However, holding eye contact for longer than is comfortable for Western society can make the other person feel threatened or held in contempt. So forget directives to maintain eye contact until someone looks away, and instead consider these approaches:
Introductions: There is a societal expectation to meet eyes upon introduction. When you meet someone or shake hands, look into his or her eyes approximately three to five seconds and then look to his or her mouth. That’s long enough to boost your charismatic influence without unconsciously tickling the other person’s “prey” response. If goodwill exists between you, he or she will be comfortable with up to seven to 10 seconds. Look away and then back to the eyes — that’s a more normal engage-release-engage exchange.
Conversation: Your eyes, in many ways, are a mirror to your soul. If you are not actively listening and letting a person “in,” your eyes will reflect it with a nonexistent or flat gaze. Look at the speaker and use your facial expression to respond. And remember that direct eye contact makes skeptical listeners less likely to change their minds, not more, as previously believed.
Best practices: Smile. Bill Clinton is often cited as the most influential and charismatic man in America because of the response he gets from face-to-face meetings. The personality is his, but the behaviors can be replicated. He smiles the entire duration of an introduction. He also is comfortable maintaining facial eye contact — his eyes will flit to the mouth, eyebrows, and then back to the eyes rather than away or downward, signaling his interest in the conversation. Videos of him greeting people reveal he doesn’t make the cardinal mistake of looking at others in the room when engaged in conversation, either. Then he will look downward, but not away to another target.
In the end, it’s certainly important to use your eyes to signal that you are truly “present” during an introduction or conversation, but it could be even better to be “presidential”!
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