Improving your eye communication

Our eyes express an amazing array of emotions, so it’s important we remain focused on the messages our eyes are conveying. In a series of posts, Sage Business Expert Liz McLaughlin looks at how you can improve your verbal, vocal and visual communication to improve your sales and customer service.

Our last blog, “It’s not what you say but how you say it”, explored the three elements of effective communication – Verbal, Vocal and Visual, and the importance of ensuring we are communicating a consistent message through all three if our communication is to be believed.

Vocal delivery and visual elements, as well as personality, likeability and openness, are the primary ingredients of high level interpersonal skills. The particular traits and characteristics that make up these important ingredients are as follows:

  1. Eye communication
  2. Posture and movement
  3. Gestures and facial expressions
  4. Voice and vocal variety
  5. Dress and appearance
  6. Language, non-words and pauses
  7. Listener involvement
  8. Humour
  9. The natural self

Whilst hundreds of stimuli go into each of these behavioural skills, there are only about half a dozen key elements for each of the nine behavioural skills. Improving your interpersonal communication skills comes from making these key elements into behaviours that you practice habitually.

Eye communicationDuring today’s blog, we are concentrating on the first and arguably the most important of these skills – eye communication. Our eyes are a complete give away to our state of mind. They are a window to how we are feeling and express an amazing array of emotions. It is therefore extremely important that we remain focused on the messages our eyes are conveying, keeping them in check to ensure consistency with our tone of voice and the words we are using.

Developing connection – eye communication

Consider, for a moment, this Eye Communication Worksheet:

  1. Do you know where you look when talking to another person? Y/N
  2. Are you aware of where you look when you’re listening to another person?
  3. Do you have a feel for how long to maintain eye communication when in a one-on-one conversation?
  4. Do you know how long to maintain eye communication with specific individuals when presenting to a large group?
  5. Do you know whether you have eye-dart or slow-blink?
  6. Do you realize that eye communication is the most important behavioural skill in interpersonal communications?
  7. List three habitual patterns in your eye communication that you wish to eliminate, modify or strengthen.

Eye communication makes or breaks the effectiveness of your interpersonal communication. No other behavioural skill can develop or destroy the connection, trust and sincerity that your eyes communicate.

Benefits of good eye communication

In addition to connecting with your customer, good eye communication brings many benefits to the speaker:

  • Reduces nervousness
  • Increases confidence
  • Focuses your thoughts
  • Motivates your movement
  • Hones your ability to read your audience

Your eye communication objective is to connect with your listener.

Your goal is to look sincerely and steadily at another person.

In individual communications, normal eye communication should be between 5 and 15 seconds. To individuals in a group, it should be four to five seconds. Make this a habit!

Keys to effective eye communication

Consider these tendencies and how they apply to your own inclinations in eye communication.

  • Five seconds for more effectiveness
    • Intimacy
    • Intimidation
    • Involvement

Intimacy and intimidation mean looking at someone for a long period – from 10 seconds to a minute or more. But more than 90% of our personal communications, especially in a business setting, call for involvement. When we talk to someone and we are excited, enthusiastic and confident, we usually look at them for five to ten seconds before looking away. This is natural in one-on-one communication. It’s also what we should strive for in all situations. This five second period is what most listeners are comfortable with in the majority of their communications.

  • Beware of the ‘eye dart’ – what most of us do when we’re feeling pressure is glance at anything other than our listener. This conveys nervousness, which undermines our credibility. Anything other than looking directly at our listener increases the tendency of eye-darting and makes our listener uncomfortable.
  • Beware of the ‘slow blink’ – almost as disconcerting as eye-darting is the slow blink. Keeping your eyes closed for up to two or three seconds gives the impression that you don’t want to be there.
  • Speaking to large groups – the importance of the five second look is considerable when in a large group. Audience members in close proximity to an individual you are actually looking at will sense you are looking at them. The coverage increases the further back you look, so you can cover a large number of people by a concentrated, five second look.

Improving your eye communication

Listed below are skill development exercises and tips to develop your eye communication skills. Practice them daily and they will soon move from feeling uncomfortable to feeling natural.

1.         Where do you look?

In your next 10 conversations, determine where you generally look when you talk to others. Note that you don’t look directly into both eyes. You may look either at a person’s left eye or right eye, but it’s impossible to look at both at the same time. In one-on-one conversations, our eyes tend to move around the face, but there’s one primary place most of us tend to rest. Find where your spot is—right eye? bridge of the nose? left eye? directly between the eyes? Any resting place near the eyes is acceptable. Not acceptable is anywhere else (the floor, over your listener’s shoulder, etc.).

Once you’ve found your pattern, increase your awareness and sensitise yourself to the complexities of eye communication. Then try to look somewhere else and feel the dissonance. This will help desensitize you to feelings of awkwardness when you might not want to look directly at someone but should for effectiveness.

2.         Reinforce the 5 second habit

When you’re in a meeting, ask a friend to count how long you look at a specific individual. Consciously keep 5 second eye communication with those in the group.

3.         Increase sensitivity

Talk to a partner for about a minute. Ask him to look away from you after 15 seconds as you continue talking. For the rest of the exercise, have him look anywhere else but at you while he’s still listening. How does this feel?

Reverse the process and then discuss the relevance of eye communication in verbal conversations. Then notice how often good eye contact is lacking at certain social functions (such as parties). Practice better eye contact in these informal situations and realize what a difference it makes to a conversation.

4.         Relieve intimidation

If you feel uncomfortable with an individual you must talk to, try looking at that person’s forehead. Experiment by having a conversation with someone who is 4 to 5 feet away from you. Look at the middle of their forehead, just above their eyes. They will think you have good eye communication whereas you will feel less emotional connection.

5.         Analyse eye communication in yourself and others

Observe others and notice how different an individual’s eye communication patterns make you feel about a person. Ask a friend to analyse yours in various communication circumstances.

6.         Get video feedback.

Taking a video of yourself, whilst uncomfortable, is a clear and honest way of assessing your eye communication skills. You don’t need specific video equipment – use your mobile phone to record and assess your eye communication habits, your strengths and weaknesses.

We hope we have given you some useful tips. Let us know how you get on!

It’s not what you say, but how you say it! (part 1)

Better body language in business (part 3)

Take your listeners on a roller coaster ride! (part 4)

Liz McLaughlin

Liz McLaughlin

Liz is a leading provider of customer service consultancy and training, She is a specialist at maximising client relationships and ensuring employee satisfaction, understanding that positive, motivated employees and excellent customer service are inextricably linked. Find out more and read best practice tips and guidance