The Scoop on Making Effective Eye Contact at Work

We all know the importance of a hearty handshake and making eye contact during a job interview but what happens when you’re at a meeting? You’re giving a presentation and then, bam! You’re trying to connect with your eyes to the audience but your boss looks away, your colleagues check their smart phones and just like that, you’ve lost eye contact.

As highlighted in a Wall Street Journal piece, Quantified Impressions indicated adults make eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time during a typical conversation.

The communications-analytical company added a footnote: People should actually make eye contact between 60 to 70 percent of the time. The numbers aren’t just declining at the office; they’re falling in social situations as well and negatively impacting emotional connections with others.

Who’s to blame? For starters, let’s look at smart phones. Noah Zandan, president of Quantified Impressions told the newspaper when it comes to twentysomethings, “It’s almost become culturally acceptable to answer that phone at dinner, or to glance down at the baseball scores.”

The piece added another layer: Working from home. In particular if your job is home-based or you’re a freelancer typing away at a coffee shop, you’re used to working without having co-workers around. Plus, there’s the act of talking on the phone without having to actually see anyone on the other end.

Having that invisible contact may not necessarily be a good thing since eye contact can be a way to influence others. A 2009 research review in Image and Vision Computing indicated people who are high on the corporate ladder typically look longer at people they talk to. Furthermore, prolonged eye contact during a disagreement can show that you mean business and you stand firm with your decision.

So, how can you be particularly cognizant and effective with your eye contact prowess? As per the piece, it’s best to hold eye contact for seven to 10 seconds in a one-on-one conversation. If you’re in a group setting, it’s advisable to maintain contact for three to five seconds. If you gaze away too soon or simply avoid making eye contact altogether, you may be viewed as “untrustworthy, unknowledgeable and nervous,” according to Ben Decker, CEO of Decker Communications.

If you really want to step things up, the piece suggests watching yourself speak on videotape. Maybe it’s instinctive to not look at people squarely in the eyes, but a tape can speak volumes and in turn, improve emotional connectivity with others.

Don’t get too carried away though. If you exceed 10 seconds of eye contact at work, well that can seem overly aggressive. It can also come across as inauthentic or empty, as mentioned in the piece. In social situations it could be viewed as downright creepy.