The “ayes” have it in meetings. The “eyes” have it in most all other encounters. Eye contact is so powerful in our culture that we summon waitresses or taxi drivers by “catching their eye.” We reprimand a child with a glance. We show love by gazing into our lover’s eyes. We lose sales for lack of eye contact with a prospect.
Locking eyes with another individual can say to the other person that you’re interested in them, that you think they’re important, that you believe in what you’re saying, or that you believe it’s important that they hear what you’re saying.
Eye contact can also show respect. In that case, the person with more authority has the privilege or responsibility of making and breaking eye contact. If you continue to stare belligerently after someone has broken eye contact and “dismissed” you, your behavior may be considered defiant and rude.
No Eye Contact: On the other hand, withholding eye contact can say to others that you don’t think they’re worth getting to know, that you’re not interested in them, that you’re lying, or that what you have to say is of little consequence.
Darting Eyes: Darting eyes send a different message. Generally, people consider darting eyes a sign of lying. But they can also signal nervousness, anxiety, insecurity, and even defensiveness—as if someone’s looking for an escape route.
Wide Eyes: Wide eyes may mean two things—good and bad. Typically, someone’s eyes grow wider when she’s surprised and happy. Consider the photos of kids on Christmas morning! If you’re willing to be transparent about your emotional state, then wide eyes can be a good thing. But wide eyes can also signal a negative surprise—shock or fear of physical harm. Recall the cliché, “He had the look of a deer caught in the headlights.” Sporting this look of fear would definitely be a negative in a Q&A session with your executive team or a key client.
For most purposes, maintain steady eye contact without staring. If you’re talking to several people at once, maintain random sustained eye contact. That is, look at first one and then another person. Hold a gaze for five to seven seconds or more before moving on to another person in the group.
Much like an individual handshake does, looking at each person individually, not as a group, acknowledges each person’s presence and importance.
To sum up: Your eye contact can be the most powerful tool you have for building rapport—or your most dangerous weapon in destroying relationships.
Learn more ways to improve credibility with Speak With Confidence : Powerful Presentations That Inform, Inspire and Persuade.