on March 27, 2011
I go to a lot of meetings. Not only am I a salesman, but I have a social life too: I go on dates, I go out for dinner with friends, I go out for drinks. Amazingly, every single one of these instances involves looking at another person for extended periods of time, often someone you just met. Remember the first school dance you ever went to? I remember mine, and apart from the exhilaration of dancing with every girl in the class (what a stud), I did remember some awkward eye contact in there as well. As an 11 year old, I didn't make great eye contact while I was dancing: I would look anywhere but directly at my partner. So Awkward. Now imagine, about 2 decades later, I'm sitting down with a client, going through the list of advantages and features of our products, and making eye contact with the barista 15 feet away.
No sale (and no, getting the barista's number doesn't count).
Everyday I hop on the Subway and I'm surrounded by total strangers, and feel like, 'where can I look so there won't be any awkward tension': if you stare a guy, you're looking for a fight; if you stare a woman, she'll either hit you, or marry you on the spot. The result? 500 or suits staring at the monitor displaying today's weather forecast. Sigh.
Why all this paranoia over our eyes? They say the eyes are the windows to the soul; maybe that's why we get jittery when a stranger is looking us in the eye. Maybe we don't want people knowing too much about us because we have deep dark secrets, and wish to share our intimate details with others. That might be why we, in social situations, are put off when someone won't look us in the eyes. They're subtly displaying that they have another side they aren't showing us.
I recently had drinks with a beautifu woman from Beijing. After reading this book, I made an effort to pay attention to her eyes, and not let my eyes wander off to people walking by, etc, as we often do. She couldn't take it. I kept going for the deep rapport eye contact, just a warm focus on her dark brown eyes, but she wouldn't reciprocate: her eyes kept darting off, and I noticed she was talking, but essentially saying nothing. She would list her interests and hobbies like she was rattling off her shopping list. I thought, I don't want to know that you enjoy 14 different sports, I want you to tell me, in detail, what you love about one of them. Eventually we did strike a connection, but without the eye contact, it struck me she was distracted and insecure. I even noticed at times, her hands would be in front of her mouth, or even slightly covering her field of vision. Could there be anymore obvious body language? She was insecure, not being honest with me, and definitely not looking for a romantic encounter.
This book is a walkthrough of various social interactions, from total strangers, to business contacts, from new lovers, to lifelong married couples, and how the eye contact can make it all work. Actually, taking off from the 'windows to the soul' line, Ellsberg assets that our eyes are really the windows to our emotions. Bad eye contact signals that you are not feeling warm, strong, confident, which explains why it's an absolute killer on a date. It signals that you want people to stay back. Now imagine going to a night club with your friends, and signaling to the beautiful people at the next table, 'Stay back! Get away!' And then imagine their confusion when you approach them 20 minutes later with a forced pickup line. Oops.
Where, then, do great connections, either at the night club, or at the Whole Foods, start? With good eye contact, of course. No cheesy pickup lines required. And what does great eye contact look like? Just ask Bill Clinton, who famously, can charm anyone within a few seconds, not because of his witty Daily Show worthy one liners, but his amazing eye contact. Another mentioned in the book, is a hero of mine, Virgin's Sir Richard Branson. Steve Jobs has also been cited for being a hypnotic master of Charisma, especially on stage. There's a line from the book which I think captures it beautifully: the agendaless presence. In a way, it's almost impossible to be on a date, and emit that you have no agenda, but that's the goal. When you're talking with friends, watching sports, there is no agenda, you're just connecting, laughing, vibing. You're in the moment, you're not strategizing, or considering your next joke. When you go on sales calls, there is an agenda, but your customers would sure love if you didn't hit them over the head with it.
Michael Ellsberg explains, in amazing detail, just how these different cues can be improved, emphasized, and redirected for maximum effect. As in my own experience above, you're not hypnotizing people. You can't make someone who doesn't like you, fall head over heels in love with you. For people that already know you and like you, eye contact will intensify the connection, and make every conversation and interaction something memorable, and genuine. In business, it will close the sale for you, because you can't (unless you have a particular brand of psychopathy) look at someone deep in the eye and pretend to care about them. You see, we're not manipulating here. In fact, we're not even doing eye contact; allowing eye contact.
See the difference?
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