I have always known that keeping eye contact matters. When you make eye contact you dramatically increase your status by making others feel understood and validated.
Timing is everything
Eye contact produces a powerful sense of connection and when employed properly gives you the edge as a leader. Here are some thoughts on “how to” and “how not to” do it.
I once worked with a brilliant VP of Finance whom I highly respected, but his gaze was like Dracula, intense and piercing. It was off-putting and many times I lost the message he was trying to convey as I was concerned he had a hidden agenda. In reality nothing was amiss.
Holding eye contact too long creates judgement and suspicion.
No one enjoys a staring contest (except maybe my nieces when they were five.)
On the flip side, I once worked with a Human Resources manager who had a habit of looking over my head during one-on-one conversations. At first I thought there was some sort of incident playing out behind me that she was distracted by when in reality it was just a bad habit. She always did this. It was both strange and unnerving when she would look past me, whether she was speaking or I was speaking. It significantly affected our communication and eroded my trust in her.
In this world of constant connectedness it is easy to bury your head in your phone or laptop during meetings and not make eye contact with others. Don’t do it for two reasons: First, nothing turns your audience off quicker than when they perceive they are not important to the conversation. Second, you are diminishing your brand quicker than the latest press release from the White House.
When making eye contact, hold it to gain the listener’s buy-in and understanding and then move to the next person in the conversation. This makes everyone feel included in the conversation; and as a leader, your job is to lead everyone.
Additionally, it’s equally important to make eye contact when you are the listener and the other person is speaking. It makes the speaker feel that their words are valued.
Practice makes perfect
Early in my career I never gave eye contact too much consideration as I did a pretty good job – or that’s what I thought. In fact most people never consider how good or bad their eye contact really is. If we make eye contact we are being successful; but if we fine tune our timing, then we’re jumping to the next level.
Take note of your cadence when making eye contact and analyze your approach. Adjust and practice. You will notice a change in others as you fine tune your tempo and pace. I did and it absolutely made me a better leader.
I have spent a lot of years trying to master it, but I know I can still improve. When done properly, eye contact creates a connection with the other person and demonstrates that you are invested in what he or she has to say.
Leadership is not only about vision, passion, integrity, transparency and innovation. Sometimes being a really great leader is simply looking people in the eye so they feel connected, included and valued.
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