We all know it is not nice to stare. Well, we know that, but there is more to the story than just that. Much depends on context, culture, and the nuances of body language. Recent studies in communications aided with eye-tracking technology provide some interesting insights. Jessica Grose gives an example (“Look Away! Eye Contact Is Overrated” Bloomberg Businessweek, 10/21/13–10/27/13, p. 92):
“Say you work in finance and take issue with a colleague’s valuation of an asset. You think it’s worth more; he thinks it’s worth less. You’re more likely to get him closer to your number if you look at his mouth, not his eyes.”
This can be very difficult for most people to do, especially when we have heard so much about how important it is to look someone in the eyes. Nevertheless, if held too long, the stare of integrity can degenerate into the stare of the creepy. That is where we have to be careful. Remember, dogs stare each other in the eyes just before they fight.
Drawing from the research, Grose cites additional practical and powerful strategies. To be maximally effective speaking in a small group requires special awareness:
“Make eye contact 50 percent or less when you’re speaking and 50 percent or more when someone else is speaking.”
This is a fascinating area of knowledge from which we can all benefit. It comes easier to some people than others. However, the important thing is to seek continuous improvement. I don’t know about you, but that will keep me busy the rest of my life.