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Saturday, October 01, 2022
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Most people agree that making eye contact with other people is important in our lives, especially if we are trying to convince them to see things our way. Eye contact positively affects interpersonal relationships as well as workplace interactions. There are five important times to make sure you are making eye contact. The context could be while you are making a presentation, during a job interview, or any conversation for that matter.

(1) Match with the verbal: In your initial approach to a new party or even someone with whom you already have established a relationship, eye contact should support what you are saying. When you introduce yourself to someone, make eye contact with them when stating your name. You should also be looking at the person when he/she states his/her name.  Often, the close of a given interactive episode will conclude with a “thank you.” That is an opportunity to take leave of the person with a sincere expression of gratitude. Looking the other person in the eye when you say “thank you” is a great way to reinforce that. When you make a presentation, don’t read everything from your papers or the charts on the wall. Take the time to look out at your audience and make some eye contact.

(2) Match with the nonverbal: Another key in developing a solid interpersonal relationship is non-verbal communication. The two most common gestures are the handshake and the smile. Shaking someone’s hand while looking over his shoulder will not engage the person you are greeting, and it may be off putting. On the other hand, a smile combined with eye contact expresses that you want to be there. It also shows interest and enthusiasm in what is being discussed. While this sounds basic, many job interviews fail as a result of not attending to this. Consequently, the desire to work or be there is not conveyed.

(3) Don’t wander off: While making a positive first impression is part of the game, eye contact should not end with the handshake or initial introduction. While at times challenging, make a concerted effort to maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. Wandering eyes give the impression that you are distracted, either from the discussion at hand, or more generally.

(4) Don’t stare: Too much of a good thing is often counterproductive. Maintaining eye contact throughout an interaction is a reasonable goal. But, if you don’t use selective diversion, you will come across as creepy and that will be a turnoff.

(5) Don’t leave anyone out: In many of our interactions, were are not communicating one-on-one, but one-to-many.  Focusing one’s eye contact and attention on a single person to the exclusion of the others will indicate that you are ignoring them and give off the impression that you are not validating their presence. One scenario that has become more commonplace is when interviewing for a job with a panel. Another is when you are making a formal presentation to a group. Make an effort to scan the room. We naturally tend to focus on those who are either familiar to us or on whom we believe to be the most influential person in attendance. Sometimes your theory of who that is will be correct; sometimes, you guessed wrong. But even if you are correct, it is possible that the others there will play some role in the hiring process. Or, in the case of a presentation, they are the recipients of any messages you are trying to communicate. Some of these same individuals might end up being your co-workers and, as such, are formulating their first impressions of you. So, engaging them with eye contact will always play well.

It goes without saying that eye contact which is devoid of substance will not be totally effective. This could be verbal content (e.g., quality responses to interview questions) or a sincere emotional investment in what is going on. As most things go, it is a package deal.

Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D. comments and consults on careers, employment and job searches. He leads a nonprofit organization called Joblink of Maryland. He studied at Ner Yisrael (B.T.L.); earned his B.A. in Psychology from UMBC; M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Organizational Psychology from Wayne State University.] elasson_joblinkemployment.org, 410.602.8700

By Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D.

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