Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Eye Contact Revolution

Several years ago, a student wrote in my teaching evaluations that I had a hard time with eye contact; the context was office hours.  I had not really thought about it,  but upon reflection, I realized that he/she was right.  More recently, in organizing peer evaluations of student presentations in my Legal Professions class, the topic of eye contact kept coming up.  And I agreed.  Students who maintained audience eye contact seemed more confident, competent and memorable.

This morning, via the Big Think, I read that we are -- or could be, if we got our act together -- in the midst of a eye contact revolution.  Here is an excerpt:

Michael Ellsberg, author of  The Power of Eye Contact: Your Secret For Success in Business, Love and Life, and The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late thinks most of us are getting it wrong, eye-contact wise. Good eye contact, he argues, is as important to connecting meaningfully with others (at play or at work) as is, say, bathing. What’s needed, says Ellsberg, is a soft, open gaze – one that neither intimidates nor communicates anxiety on the part of the gazer.

[Why does this matter?]
Ellsberg’s “eye contact revolution” is aimed not only at careerists, but at the social and spiritual heart of our glowing screen-obsessed world. Looking up from our smartphones and into each other’s eyes, he believes, will increase the quality of every aspect of our lives.

Ellsberg suggests trying out his techniques in low stakes interactions, such as sales clerks and waiters and waitresses. 

This reminds me of Warren Buffett's experimentation with Dale Carnegie's techniques for making friends and influencing people.  In his teens, Buffett practiced the Carnegie methods for several weeks and tracked the results.  Then he reverted to his former self and agained tracked the data.  At the end of the process, he compared the statistical output and realized that the variation could not be explained [reasonably] by chance.  So thereafter, he committed himself changed.  See Alice Schroeder, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life (2008).

Below is a Big Think video of Ellsberg discussing his ideas.

[Posted by Bill Henderson]


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I suppose in the sense of "if you can't cure the disease, treat the symptoms," a focus on eye contact is okay. I'd think that a problem with making eye contact reflects a deeper issue with interpersonal communication, and that the appropriate thing is to take a shot at figuring out what that is. It's like teaching sincerity. Well, wait a minute, are you teaching me to be sincere, or to look like I'm sincere? Because if you aren't sincere already, acting like you are sincere is going to make you look even less sincere. Like using somebody's first name every second sentence, and employing the two-handed handshake (gives me the creeps even thinking about it, yuk)!

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Mar 14, 2012 8:22:08 PM

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