National Public Radio (NPR) published a report about the effects of making eye contact, and it is not what you might expect.
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Western cultures generally teach that making eye contact equates with good communication skills. Those who make eye contact while speaking are thought to be more connected to their audience, and to be persuasive and influential.
A study by NPR found negative consequences of making deliberate eye contact that is good information for people making presentations at work.
Eye Contact May Signal Agreement
When you are speaking to your boss or to a small group in a meeting, those who make eye contact with you likely agree with you. If people disagree with you, it is more likely than not that they will look away. They are still listening, but are not gazing back into your eyes.
It is fine to consider this form of body language when making your point. If your boss looks away for a moment while you are speaking, he may be considering an alternate viewpoint. This is not a danger signal, however, and best practice is to not try to force eye contact.
Eye Contact May Signal Dominance
Another point highlighted in this study is that trying to maintain eye contact may come across as dominant or possibly hostile. Staring into somebody else’s eyes as you speak may cause you to come across as pushy or intrusive, instead of as a great communicator.
Eye Contact Is Not Persuasive
If you are trying to persuade your boss or co-workers to your point of view, take heed of this study. The results indicate that listeners who look in your eyes are less likely to change their minds to agree with you. Rather, people who looked at the mouths of the speakers were more likely to say they agreed with the viewpoint expressed.
It is easy to get caught up in little things like eye contact. Better to make your point with eloquence and not fixate on who has locked eyes with you.
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