Using the Intoxicating Power of Eye Contact to Make Real Connections.
Years ago, on arriving in the USA, I found myself “interviewing” doctors to ensure I had professionals lined up for annual physicals, dental cleanings, eye checks, etc.—heady days, indeed. All these years later, the faces blur together except for one doctor whom I will never forget—and for all the wrong reasons.
The time for my consultation arrived, and a nurse took me through to the doctor’s office. The doctor was seated at her desk, head bent over a computer keyboard. All I could see was the parting in her hair. I hovered in the doorway. Complete silence radiated off her. I waited for her to complete her task. More silence. I cleared my throat (the internationally understood, “ahem”), but she kept tapping away. I decided to sit down — more silence. Then, without lifting her head, she asked, “And why are you here today?” fingers still tap-tapping at the keyboard. I wondered if she was questioning the alphabet. At this point, all I had seen was the top of her head. She could’ve been wearing a red clown nose for all I knew.
I sat completely still, mouth pressed closed. Was this how she treated her patients? It took about 10 seconds before she realized I was not going to play my part. She raised her head, a look of annoyance pinching her face, and actually made eye contact.
Slowly, I stood, extended my hand, and greeted her with my name and a good afternoon. I remember we shook hands, but at that point, I had already decided that even if she owned the fountain of youth, and handed out bottles of it free of charge, I would never go back. And I never did.
Eye contact. It is the most basic of human actions, and yet it is becoming an endangered gesture.
How many times have you walked up to a counter, and the service person continues with whatever they are doing? You stand, awkwardly waiting, feeling like the last donut on the breakroom table that no one wants to touch. You are not expecting them to drop everything and spring into action—this is real-life, not a Disney movie—all you need is to be acknowledged. “I exist,” you want to scream! I am not an annoying inconvenience pulling you away from watching penguins-in-Santa-hats videos on your phone. But they keep doing what they’re doing, seconds pass, and already you two are off to a bad start.
Eye contact can solve this. If, the moment you stepped forward, they looked up and simply said, “Hello” or “I’ll be right with you,” I guarantee you would gladly wait.
Humans crave eye contact. The mere act of looking someone in the eyes creates a connection. We all know that weird disconnect when someone is looking toward you, but you know they aren’t looking at you. Cell phones and other devices have exacerbated this problem. Is there a single person anywhere who can honestly say they are okay talking to someone whose eyes are glued to their phone or device? You may have become accustomed to it, in business, you may even have to accept it as the norm, but who truly feels good about a conversation where the other person doesn’t look at you or constantly breaks eye contact to scan a screen?
Think about all the hilarious memes about avoiding eye contact. What makes them funny is the truth behind them; eye contact is powerful, an underutilized secret weapon. Eye contact shows the other person you are actively listening, paying attention to them. It is almost intoxicating when someone gives you their undivided attention. Try it! The next time you are with someone, stop everything while they talk, and pay attention to them.
Nothing in my Musing is original thinking, most people would accept it as true, and yet we persist in putting these screens between ourselves and the world until we almost lose the ability to make eye contact. In our stressed world, we all want to feel we matter, that we have value and worth, and the simple act of looking at another human being and acknowledging them will make you both feel better.
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