Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Importance of Eye Contact

“I feel that in-person contact with people is the most important thing in comedy. While I'm up on stage, I can actually put myself into the audience and adjust my pace and tuning to them. I can get into their heads through their ears and through their eyes. Only through this total communication can I really achieve what I'm trying to do.” ~Bill Cosby~

Making eye contact with the person you are talking to is so important. It does not matter if the person is an employee, a customer or some other acquaintance. You are constantly being evaluated by your sincere eye contact.

I was at a seminar recently where the speaker, who conducts customer surveys, shared that people’s evaluations of salesmen were greatly enhanced when the salesmen made eye contact. The more eye contact they made, the more professional they were perceived.

Being interested in empirical analysis, I decided to run my own test and went out of my way to make sincere eye contact with the next 10 people I talked to. I quickly learned that, while eye contact is so important, it can easily be overdone.
When I made too much eye contact—in effect, stared—or appeared to be too aggressive, the person would turn away or disengage. However, if I made genuine eye contact, the person seemed to open up like a flower bud and a strong connection was made.

When I made soft but deep eye contact, people just seemed to melt and open up with amazing warmth. You could actually watch their eyes, and if they became dilated, you knew they were genuinely and deeply engaged in our conversation.
On the other hand, if I did not make eye contact or allowed my eyes to wander, the person I was talking to would never really engage. I could almost feel them drifting off. These general reactions were true of everyone, regardless of who they were.

I was in a drug store getting a prescription refilled, and we were having trouble getting the insurance company to agree to pay for the prescription. While discussing the issue with the clerk, I made sincere eye contact with her, and she went from just tolerating me to becoming my advocate with the insurance company. It was so amazing to me that this one small thing could make such an abrupt and powerful change in her behavior towards me. I went from being just another customer to someone she had a deep connection with.

That same day, I went out of my way to make quality eye contact with a cashier at the grocery store. At first, she was uncomfortable with the eye contact and she kept looking away, but as I persisted, you could see her barriers going down. She started returning the eye contact and then began to smile, which was a dramatic change from her initial mood.

What these exercises clearly illustrated is that eye contact does matter in a significant way.

Like most things, having great eye contact takes practice. The more I went out of my way to have eye contact with the people I encountered, the easier and more effective it became. I gave a seminar recently, and as the group worked in pairs to improve their eye contact, you could actually see and feel the relationships deepening.

Now go out and do two things. First, make sure that your sales force has great eye contact with their customers. Second, develop and practice great eye contact techniques in your interactions.

You can do this.

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