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When eyes talk

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Negotiation touches every part of our lives. Relationships in business and in our personal lives are negotiated. And the skills to do it effectively can often mean the difference between getting what you want or losing out. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!

In the first section of the book, How to be a Great Negotiator, written by property economist, investor and developer Neville Berkowitz, the characteristic traits of a great negotiator are explored in short, bite-sized nuggets of advice.

Over the next 132 days, we will bring you the traits needed to succeed at the art of negotiating.

(Courtesy of PersonalEmpowerment.co)

45 Eye contact

Eye contact is the most direct and potentially revealing form of contact between two people. Words can deceive, but the eyes, the “mirrors of the soul,” uniquely reveal the person behind, looking out. In every culture, eye contact is an essential part of any human encounter.

Every relationship, and every negotiation, involves a subtle dance of eye contact. Making and sustaining good eye contact creates a rapport based on mutual recognition and trust. You don’t trust someone who can’t look you in the eye. But sustaining good eye contact doesn’t mean sustained or unbroken eye contact. Sustained eye contact, beyond a certain point, is considered invasive, impolite or inappropriate.

Varying the length of eye contact is essential in any encounter. And that is an intuitive matter. But general ground rules do apply. When the other party is talking, your job is responsive listening. Then, a meaningful gaze held for five or ten seconds at a time says “I’m taking in every word”; “I’m very interested in what you have to say”; “I like, respect, admire you”; “I feel a good connection with you”; “I feel like you are the important person in the room right now,” etc. Literally verbalising those statements to someone you have only known for minutes wouldn’t work. Yet good eye contact can communicate all of that nonverbally in an effective and acceptable manner.

But an unbroken gaze held for 15, 20, or 30 seconds moves into increasingly awkward territory. It becomes staring rather than engaging, invasive rather than connecting. When people feel stared at, they become uncomfortable and self-conscious. They will feel that something is not quite right with you and will begin to form a negative impression of you.

Whether talking or listening, you can briefly break or modify the meaning and intensity of eye-to-eye contact  by  blinking;  by  occasionally glancing at the person’s mouth or glancing down or away while nodding thoughtfully, or smiling in agreement, amusement or admiration; or by looking at a notepad and jotting notes – but always resuming eye contact once again.

You can express many nuances of attitude and emotion with your eyes. When someone is being difficult, inappropriate or obnoxious, simply averting your eyes or giving a pointed stare expresses disapproval. When someone shares a touching story, or something personal or heartfelt, softening the eyes and face expresses sympathy. When you want to impose your authority in the moment, a firm fixed stare often does the trick. When you want to show humility or remorse, or acknowledge the other person’s authority, simply look down with the appropriate expression.

These are all things most of us do naturally. But a good negotiator must be more conscious of these subtleties that affect the tenor of any exchange and the rapport between any two parties.

At the most basic level, good eye contact reflects high self-esteem, while poor eye contact reflects the opposite. And either one creates a corresponding impression about you in the eyes of the other party. For this reason, a good negotiator develops the necessary “skill” of effective eye contact.


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