20/12/2011

By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ

Non-verbal communication is a crucial part of face to face communication skills. In this article we will focus in on the impact of eye contact on our communication credibility.

Have you ever been in a meeting or conversation and noticed that the person speaking to you appears to be avoiding eye contact? How does that make you feel? Does your internal trust meter increase or decrease? Certainly in western society we associate eye contact with truthfulness. Our internal alarm systems go off if someone we are speaking to doesn’t make sufficient eye to eye connection.

As parents we may have even used this with our children. Does the phrase “look me in the eye and tell me that you have done your homework.” ring any bells?

If you are going to come across as credible and truthful you need to practice holding eye contact with your audience. Research suggests that in the UK, USA and Western Europe at least, around 3 seconds of continuous eye contact does the trick. Much more and you can come across as intimidating. Much less and you will come across as shifty and untrustworthy.

The causes of eye contact avoidance include fear, nervousness and feelings of inferiority. The solution is practice! And remember that you don’t have to stare right into the other persons pupils. Imagine an inverted triangle overlaid over the other persons face with the base across the brow and the apex on the nose. Focussing anywhere within that area will feel like comfortable eye contact.

It’s also worth remembering two other benefits of holding eye contact. Firstly there is that it gives you the chance to gain valuable feedback on how the other person is responding to your communication. This allows you to ask questions or to amend your approach if you see that your initial strategy isn’t having the desired results.

Finally focussing your attention more on the other person can help reduce your own nervousness because it takes your attention away from your own butterflies.

Don’t underestimate the power of eye contact in your own crucial communications. Let me know how you get on.


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