Eye Contact and You Contact

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Summary:

A while back, I had dinner with a faraway friend, Jim, when I was in his town to see a client. Jim was thrilled about the new project he was working on and his excitement was palpable as he described it. But as he spoke, his eyes were focused above my head, as if I were perched up there on the rafters. I kept thinking, “Hey, I’m down here, look at me!”

A while back, I had dinner with a faraway friend, Jim, when I was in his town to see a client. Jim was thrilled about the new project he was working on and his excitement was palpable as he described it. But as he spoke, his eyes were focused above my head, as if I were perched up there on the rafters. I kept thinking, “Hey, I’m down here, look at me!”

Then at a meeting of my professional speakers chapter, the same thing happened in a conversation with my friend, Henry. As he described his recent travels, his head was cranked upward. At least Jim and I were seated and at the same eye level. But Henry and I were both standing. And he’s a lot taller than me. (Most people are!) So as I craned my neck to look at him, he was looking aloft. Henry knows the importance of making eye contact with his audiences. But not, apparently, when talking with friends.

Now, in the vast repertoire of interpersonal skills, this is not a biggie. Neither Jim nor Henry was overtly trying to avoid looking me in the eye, as a person might who didn’t want to be caught telling a lie. Both were enthused about what they were saying, and it’s probably that very enthusiasm that led to their looking up, up and away.

Still, it’s disconcerting to be on the listening end of such an interaction. In a normal conversation, the listener participates by nodding, or raising an eyebrow, or frowning, or in some way acknowledging what the person is saying. But what’s the point when that person isn’t going to notice? It's like having two independent one-way interactions.

Jim and Henry were exhibiting a minor mannerism. But like many mannerisms, the people who have them aren’t aware of them, and therefore don’t know that they’re doing something that might be annoying to others. So you might, if you feel like it, notice if you make eye contact, rather than gazing skyward, when you’re talking with others. And please, if you happen to talk to me when we’re both standing, look down. Because that’s where I’ll be.

 

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