What's the point of eye contact? Many of us find it uncomfortable, threatening, or scary. So why bother? Well, one might answer, it's polite. Yes, it is polite. But I think it is something even more important. Eye contact is a tool that connects you to another person. In business, connections are everything.
To understand eye contact, and how it works, think about another tool used in business: a handshake.
When you shake hands, you can feel the energy of the other person. If the other person hands you a "dead fish," you feel their lack of energy. I worked with a guy once who would squeeze the first two sections of my fingers. It was like he was trying to get icing out of my fingers for a cake ... his competitive energy came right though his fingers. It made me uncomfortable. A handshake can also make me feel good when I can feel helpful energy.Handshakes create a good connection through positive energy. This is also true of eye contact.
Good eye contact is not as easy as a handshake to label. It doesn't always have the same tangible feel, but eye contact can have a more powerful impact than a handshake. Positive eye contact is like using the HOV lane at rush hour. It's direct, it's fast, and it's comfortable.
I have been on the receiving end of many emotions when looking someone in the eye. I have felt anger, sadness, happiness, warmth, joy, and love -- all powerful emotions. The sender knew what energy they were sending. It was energy that evoked an emotional response not possible from a handshake.
I went to a Bat Mitzvah last weekend. At one point, the rabbi asked each of us in the congregation to look at someone nearby that we didn't know well. Then, he asked us to make eye contact, and send positive energy to the other person, "Not so much that it might make them uncomfortable ... just enough to make a difference."
I made eye contact with the woman next to me. After a few seconds, we smiled. Then we spontaneously shook hands and introduced ourselves. We made a connection.
Good eye contact can make a good impression. In fact, eye contact can help the other person like you, trust you, remember you, and want to work with you.
Think about it from the other direction. Few good things come from bad eye contact. The CBS show 48 Hours recently told an FBI kidnapping story. They interviewed an expert at identifying liars. I sat forward, waiting to learn the expert's secret. Instead of something complicated, the expert said that she knew the other person was lying because, "He refused to make eye contact." That's pretty simple.
Eye contact says you are comfortable in your own skin. You are confident. You are honest. When coaching professionals, I video tape them and we review the tape together. They are able to see what they look like to others. Some of them have difficulty with eye contact. When those clients see their lack of eye contact, they recognize the negative impression it makes.
Our job in business is to always make a positive impression, make a connection, and make a difference. When you use positive eye contact you can change the emotional energy in any encounter.
The concept of sending positive energy can easily feel like I'm talking about mystics or spirits. I have come to believe it is physics. Albert Einstein's Law of Conservation of Energy says that energy always was and always will be. It cannot be created or destroyed, it just changes form. This theory is the basis for his E=mc2 stuff that few of us understand.
Now, I'm no Einstein, but the theory helps me understand eye contact. Einstein says energy is out there. Energy emanates from us, and it goes into us. Energy is in a constant state of change.
It is our option in life to decide how we are going to share that energy. It should be positive not negative. It should be focused in a helpful way, not just sent randomly.
So how do you make positive eye contact? I suggest you always decide that you like the other person. Even if you are in disagreement, let them know it's not personal. Send "I like you" signals from your mind to theirs through your eyes.
Some people may call good eye contact "charm" or "charisma." When you send positive energy through eye contact, I call it "making a connection."
So, trust the moment. It's okay to genuinely look someone in the eye for a few seconds. That's when you make the connection.
Follow the rabbi's advice: use eye contact to send positive energy to the people you encounter, "Not so much that it might make them uncomfortable ... just enough to make a difference."
If you practice making good eye contact every day, then you will be a professional at making a connection when it counts.