The Power of Eye Contact

Photograph of a woman's eyes. In the foreground, her hands are held up, wrapped in lights to cast light on her face. The photographer has focused on the woman's eyes, giving them emphasis while leaving the raised hands out of focus.
Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash

I landed my first job because of my eyes.

I had gone in to meet with a manager to ask about the possibility of a job shadow with his business. It was a requirement for my junior year’s economics class and Mr. V had set us loose on the town’s business owners with an assignment sheet and a gleeful glint in his eye. He knew that few, if any of us, had started seriously thinking about jobs, much less the dreaded hunt for one. This was new territory and I had to get the shadow to do well in the course and maintain my GPA.

The fear of loosing my straight-A’s streak lighting a fire beneath me, I called around until I found someone willing to meet with me. When I walked into the office I was shaky with tension. I was bound and determined to persuade this guy to give me the shadow I needed for pride’s-sake … but terrified because I had no idea how to do it.

Make the Ask

The manager was very kind and told a joke to try and settle my nerves. I tried taking a deep breath. I settled my assignment sheet down on the table between us and spent a moment reading through the questions, clicking my G-2 gel pen out and in.

Click, click, click.

Deep breath. Let it out, nice and steady.

Tuck a lock of hair behind my ear.

Another breath.

It wasn’t helping.

Stuck in a mental corner I fell back on what my Dad had taught me to do when I was in a conversation that I felt uncertain about: straighten those shoulders, look up, and meet his eyes.

What color are they? Brown. What kind of brown? Chocolate. Okay. Now, start talking to the man with the chocolate-brown eyes.

It’s just a little thing that tricks the mind into focusing on a simple, quick task. Once it’s accomplished, you’re ready to move onto the larger one. The small victory brings you back to center, re-balancing what had gone all topsy-turvy.

We talked for about a quarter of an hour, tackling the questions on my sheet until I came to the final part of the assignment. The paper just listed: MAKE THE ASK!

I was nervous again, but we’d made it this far and I’d built up enough momentum to carry me forward. I made the ask.

“I’m sure we could make that work, but how about a job, instead?”

I might have dropped my pen. Or maybe I choked in surprise. I honestly don’t remember too much beyond the fact that we somehow arrived at the agreement that I would work a two-week trial period, after which I would have the job if I did well.

There was this buzzing in my head and I felt a little wobbly as the manager walked me out to the front desk.

One thing I remember clearly, though.

I turned to him and asked why he’d offered me a job. He looked at me with his chocolate-brown eyes and said, “Three girls came in before you today for interviews and I couldn’t tell you what color their eyes were. They kept them down the whole time. You’ve got blue ones.”

Silent Eloquence

I’ve gone through college and a few jobs since then and along the way I’ve learned a few things about that little trick.

Eye contact is about more than just looking at someone. It’s about engagement. What you show with your eyes taps into a frequency of communication that can not only compliment your words, but go beyond them.

First and foremost, though, it’s about respect.

I had a manager once who never looked me in the eye. I would greet her when we passed in the hallway. She’d bend her mouth up a bit, but wouldn’t shift her eyes. I’d address my team in a meeting. Her laptop screen was far too fascinating to look away from. Sitting down with her one-on-one, she’d look to the ceiling, down, off to the side, at my shoulder, and out the window.

I knew her eyes were brown, but I didn’t see much of them.

Every time we interacted and she refused to meet my eyes I felt like she viewed me as a waste of her time. It was a slap in the face to be told in this silent language that I wasn’t worth the effort it took to look up.

How small would that make you feel?

Without the courtesy of looking up to share your gaze with another person you squander one of your most powerful tools for creating, building, fostering, and mending a relationship. Poetry can say all it wants about “windows to the soul.” Meeting someone’s eyes is the pathway to their mind, perhaps their heart, and certainly a connection of any substance.

 

“I have a big thing with eye contact because I think as soon as you make eye contact with somebody, you see them, and they become valued and worthy.”

Mary Lambert


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©2018 Sarah A. Easley – All Rights Reserved

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