Listening With Your Eyes
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at a business event and the colleague you’ve been having an intense
conversation with begins to shift her gaze from your face to look
around the room. Ever wonder why that makes you feel as if she has
stopped listening? You know it’s not logical. A person doesn’t have to
look at you to hear you. People don’t listen with their eyes.
impact of eye contact is so powerful because it is instinctive and
connected with humans’ early survival patterns. Children who could
attract and maintain eye contact, and therefore increase attention, had
the best chance of being fed and cared for.
eye contact retains its power with adults. We gaze intently at one
another, unconsciously monitoring the wide eyes of surprise or pleasure
and the narrowed eyes of suspicion or dislike. We respond (positively
or negatively) to dilated pupils that signal attraction, increased
blink rates caused by stress, and darting eyes that underscore
discomfort or defensiveness.
the course of a conversation, eye contact is made through a series of
glances – by the speaker, to make sure the other person has understood
or to gage reactions, and by the listener to indicate interest in
either the other person or what’s being said. It is also used as a
synchronizing signal. People tend to look up at the end of utterances,
which gives their listeners warning that the speaker is about to stop
talking. There is often mutual eye contact during attempted
interruptions, laughing, and when answering short questions.
contact is most effective when both parties feel its intensity is
appropriate for the situation (and this may differ with
introverts/extroverts, men/women, or between different cultures). But
greater eye contact, especially in intervals lasting four to five
seconds, almost always leads to greater liking. As long as people are
looking at us, we believe we have their interest. If they meet our gaze
more than two-thirds of the time, we sense that they find us appealing
fact, the only kind increased eye contact that does not increase
liking is staring – which most of us consider to be rude or even
threatening. This kind of over-done eye contact generally communicates
a desire to dominate, a feeling of superiority, a lack of respect, or a
wish to insult.
the Western world, too little eye contact is interpreted as being
impolite, insincere, or even dishonest. One hospital, analyzing letters
of complaints from patients, reported that 90 percent of the complaints
had to do with poor doctor eye contact, which was perceived as a “lack
people decrease or avoid eye contact for many reasons – when they are
discussing something intimate or difficult, when they are not
interested in the other person’s reactions, when they don’t like the
other person, when they are insecure or shy and when they are ashamed,
embarrassed, depressed or sad.
in restaurants tend to avoid eye contact with their customers to send
the message, “I’m too busy to deal with you right now.”
Employees avoid eye contact when the boss poses a difficult question or
asks for volunteers. (The general rule here is to look down and shuffle
through notes as if searching for the answer or engaged in a much more
important pursuit.) And when pedestrians or drivers want to ensure
their own right of way, one strategy is to avoid meeting the other’s
eyes in order to avoid cooperation.
intense or intimate conversations people naturally look at one another
more often and hold that focus for longer periods of time. A sure sign
that a conversation is lagging is when one of the participants begins
looking away to pay more attention to other people or objects in the
when your business colleague stopped looking at you and began to gaze
blankly into the distance or visually scan the room, she was “saying”
with her eyes that she had, in effect, stopped listening.
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-11-24 17:30:14 in Personal Articles