8 Ways to Use Your Eyes to Build Stronger Relationships

What role do your eyes play in building relationships?

Quite a bit, according to a new study highlighted in the Wall Street Journal. It found that human beings are unique among animals in how we reveal and interpret our emotions through our eyes. The eyes really are the window to the soul, and since the time you were a baby, you’ve used your eyes to build relationships.

But most of us do this unconsciously. Just think how much more effective we could be if we really paid attention to how we can use our eyes to build trust and connection.

A great example is the relationship I have with my baby girl. I love to gaze into her eyes. They are so innocent and receptive. We can’t communicate with words though she is already quite sophisticated in communicating through her eyes. I say “I love you” through my eyes and she blushes, giggles and kicks her feet.

It hasn’t always gone so well for me and eye contact, though. I remember feeling awkward in high school as I tried to figure out the right balance. My glance would fall to my shoes or I would intentionally focus on a girl’s eyes to show confidence—which usually backfired. One girl once asked, “Why are you staring at me?”

Even today with clients, colleagues and acquaintances, I often struggle with how to do eye contact well.

So I recently went to my second cousin, Liz Norman Taylor, who is the Director of Etiquette Principles, for advice. Her mission is to refine polish, civility and confidence in the workplace, and she notes the importance of eye contact in building trust, engaging listeners and improving influence.

An excellent speaker and consultant, Liz shared her eight principles for using eye contact to your advantage.

  1. If you are with one person, make eye contact about 80 percent of the time.
  2. Be aware of your blink rate. Blinking is often is perceived as anxious or stressed behavior, so limit your blinking to enhance your credibility.
  3. To make effective eye contact during a meeting, look directly into the other person’s eyes for four to five seconds at a time.
  4. Instead of staring blankly at a client or colleague during a conversation, nod or shift your head from time to time to show concern or agreement.
  5. Eye contact communicates respect and notes that a person is paying attention to the conversation at hand. Don’t check your phone mid conversation.
  6. When speaking to a group, eye contact should be held for four to five seconds with each person, and remember to include everyone involved—don’t leave anyone out.
  7. There is such a thing as too much eye contact. Holding eye contact for more than ten seconds can seem aggressive or inauthentic. Subtly glance away to look at a window or the desk you are working from.
  8. Allow your emotion to show through your eyes. Smile with your eyes, encourage with your eyes and empathize with your eyes. They are the window to your soul.

Communication makes connection. Perhaps even more than words, it’s our eyes where we truly know one another.

How can you start using eye contact to engage listeners, build trust and improve your influence?  And what differences in using eye contact do you see across cultures?

As Liz says, the key to eye contact is making it!



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