William Shakespeare made famous the phrase, “The eyes are the window to your soul.”
In life, whether it’s professional or personal, lets face it—the eyes are not something to pass off lightly.
There’s a keen wisdom in recognizing just how important eyes are not only to see, but also to perceive more than “meets the eye.”
With the quickened pace of life that many of us lead these days, the second it takes for a connecting glance is at times overlooked as important.
Instead, we have a sea of fake plastered on smiles.
For those of us who desire a connection with others, it is worth taking a moment to consider what it takes to make those glances more meaningful and sustainable connections.
Would we purposefully want to be perceived as unkind, needy, clueless or incompetent? What about creepy, intrusive, awkward or having low self-esteem?
Most likely that wouldn’t be our first choice.
When we don’t use eye contact to our full advantage, people may not feel our sense of sincerity.
If we are sincerely disinterest or are too busy to pay attention to them, just being aware of what our eyes are doing can be a game-changer. Our eye contact can truly damage, negate or enhance connections with others.
I recently attended a family celebration and a distant relative who I had not seen for many years greeted me in a fascinating way—she extended her hand.
Okay, so no attempt at a hug, which for a second threw me for a loop, but I rolled with it. Hey, I’m a pretty flexible thinker!
And then she shook not my hand as is customary but only one finger!
When was the last time that happened to you, if ever?
So I rolled with that response too, but what both surprised and stunned me was watching what her eyes did from that point on.
She leaned in for the one-finger shake and said, “Nice to see you,” all while looking at the horizon behind me.
I gave her the benefit of the doubt thinking maybe something was in one of her eyes, or someone was trying to get her attention or maybe a flash of the most atrocious outfit just walked by or maybe her stomach was rumbling and servers with luscious tidbits were beckoning her to partake of them.
Alright, maybe I’m a bit sensitive about the power of eye contact since it’s a part of what I teach people to do, but in this case the lack of connection caught me off guard.
You see, I had been well prepared to encounter this woman but never in my wildest dreams did I think that her avoidance would be so obvious.
Couldn’t she have at least tried to be available even for moment? Maybe even with a bit of shared eye contact?
Re-playing the moment in my head, I’ve wondered if I would’ve carried away another reaction if she had looked at me straight on? I’d like to believe that I’m not invisible unless I choose to be.
Here I was, fully available for whatever was to transpire, and that plan went poof into the ethers.
A bit of eye contact, even for a blip of a moment, would have added something to the dynamics of the connection, like a morsel of respect, instead of taking away from it what wasn’t even there to begin with.
If this had been a professional or business situation, not giving eye contact might cost someone a lot of money. Often times, employers won’t do business with or hire someone who does not demonstrate eye contact.
What about in personal relationships? Would you want to go on a second date or have lunch again with a friend if they didn’t look at you? If their interest was on their phone or on their food or at someone who walks by, would that feel good to you? Why would you want a repeat performance if they didn’t show their interest in you?
So, what happens when we perceive someone’s eye contact styles?
Well, side-to-side furtive glances might lead you to believe a person is untrustworthy.
A focus on something else beside the shared conversation might appear as if they were bored or not paying attention or even convey a lack of commitment.
Would you want someone like this on your team? Would you want to be in a relationship with them? Or would you avoid anything to do with them at all costs?
In some settings, like speed networking events or even fundraisers, would you want to do business with or donate money if the eye contact lagged?
It should be noted that the aforementioned woman who lacked eye contact is, in her own right, quite a successful fixture at many high-powered soirees. And with all of her years of practice, she definitely knows how to work a room—flitting from person to person chatting them up, and leaving in her wake a lasting impression of being quite friendly.
But, what exactly was the point of the conversation? Was there a memorable leave behind where you felt compelled to get to know her more?
Perhaps in certain settings that works well, but for those of us who at times feel a bit isolated, not wanting to spend too much time in the digital world and still value connections with others, a lack of eye contact would definitely be off-putting.
If you want to show up as someone who is perceived as competent, trustworthy and available for connection, your eyes and what you do with them is imperative.
Here is a checklist of questions to ponder:
1. Is it hard for you to look someone in the eye?
2. Have you gotten feedback that your eye contact is too penetrating or off-putting?
3. What judgments come up for you when you run into: a) shifty eye, b) horizon seeker, c) doing something else more important than you at the moment, d) afraid to look at you?
4. Do you look away when someone is giving you full-on eye contact, receiving every word you say, inviting you to show up as you are?
6. Do you consider yourself: a) easy going, b) high strung, c) controlling, d) judgmental, e) over-confident, f) pretty even keel, g) easily distracted, h) a team player, i) competitive?
7. Are you aware of the effect you have on others? Are they comfortable with you? Guarded? Needy? Frustrated? Helpful? Collaborative? Happy to see you? Avoiding you? Notice a lack of follow through? Strong commitment toward you? Or?
And, here are some top-secret tips:
1. When you feel more confident, unstoppable and genuine with yourself, eye contact gets a whole lot easier!
2. When you become more flexible in the way you view things, you’ll be perceived as more approachable.
3. When you judge someone else, they feel it and will not enjoy being around you. Try making it about your own disappointment and not about them. That will shift things between you.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Ellie Green/FineArtAmerica