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Eye Contact: Why It's Important

        posted by , June 09, 2013

The eyes are the window of the soul.
~ Traditional Proverb
Eye contact has social significance in every culture. Humans are hardwired to seek information in the eyes of others.


Eye contact can arouse strong emotions. Strangers on trains avoid eye contact when they want to maintain their private space. Where you focus your eyes gives clues to others about what's on your mind.

But what does all this mean to business? There are 4 things to keep in mind:

1. Strong Eye Contact

It's common to speak of "strong eye contact" as a soft skill.

It's difficult to define exactly what this means. Generally, it's a good idea to look in the eyes of the person you're speaking to for much of the conversation. However, conversations are not staring competitions, it's okay to look away from time to time.

Generally, when you are comfortable with yourself it will show through in your eye contact. Eye contact comes naturally to the majority of people.

strong eye contact

2. Emotions Show in the Eyes

Social psychologists believe that people seek eye contact because the eyes can communicate emotions.

If you want to read someone's reaction to your words, it's possible to sense information in their eyes. For example, anger shows readily in the eyes.

3. It's Not A Technical Skill

Your eyes express your underlying emotions. It's not something that you can directly control. This is the basis for the old proverb "eyes don't lie".


4. Cultural Differences

In the West, eye contact is considered important when shaking hands.

In Japan, bowing is the traditional business greeting. Westerners sometimes try to maintain eye contact when they bow, this is a mistake. It's difficult to bow and maintain eye contact, so people lower their eyes.

It's also customary in Japan for people to lower their eyes as a sign of respect to a superior. For example, a student may lower their eyes to a teacher. However, eye contact is generally maintained in conversation in Japan as in the West.

In some East Asian cultures it can be considered a disrespectful challenge to look a superior in the eyes for too long.

Seeking constant unbroken eye contact can be considered annoying in East Asia. It can be considered annoying in Western countries too if you overdo it.

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