Have you bought anything unusual during the pandemic? My daughters created a PowerPoint presentation and made an impressive argument for why we should buy them parakeets. I had never thought about having birds but I was so thrilled by their presentation skills that I had to say yes.
We had lots of opportunities over the months to observe these birds -- who we named Millie and Skye. It's been fascinating watching how they interact with each other and with us. They communicate quite a lot with each other and their chatter is now background noise in our life.
The other day I was watching an exchange between the two birds and was struck by the fact that they shifted their positions and moved to face each other during one exchange. They seemed to be looking each other directly into each other’s eyes
Now, eye-to-eye contact isn’t just important for birds...
How important is it that we look in each other’s eyes while communicating?
Think of the last conversation you had with someone. If it was in person, did you look up from your phone or computer while talking to them? Did you shift your position to be able to maintain your gaze? What about in a virtual environment? When on Zoom or Microsoft Teams did you turn your camera on and keep your eyes focused on the camera? Or did you leave it off so you could do another task at the same time?
We do not only communicate with each other using words. We also use non-verbal ways to fully communicate our message. Examples include:
the tone of voice we use
how loudly or softly we speak
the gestures we use
the posture we maintain
our facial expressions
Those last three items can only be seen with our eyes. We need to consider what we are missing when we don’t look at the person who is talking to us. What subtle messages might we be missing?
To fully understand what someone is saying, we need to see them as well as hear them.
Listening With Our Eyes
Maintaining eye contact during a conversation is just one way to actively listen to someone. It sends a message to the other person that you are interested and focused on what they have to say. Just that act alone can cause the speaker to feel good- they get a non-verbal cue from us that what they are saying is important to us.
But it is also important because we are able to observe their body language. We note their facial expressions, their gesturing, and their body language to determine if their non-verbal body language matches the message they are conveying through words. If not, we know to ask questions to try to understand better.
* Actionable Success Step
The next time you have an opportunity to talk one-on-one with someone, do the following:
Set the expectation that you will see each other during the conversation- either by meeting in person or asking in advance for cameras to be used
Remove all distractions that might impede your ability to maintain eye contact with the other person
Note the following during the conversation:
what gestures are they using as they speak to me
what facial expressions do I see
how’s their posture and general body language
Reflect on the conversation afterward by asking the following questions:
Was it easier to maintain my listening when looking directly at the other person?
Did the non-verbal cues I noticed help me better understand their message?
With the thousands if not millions of distractions that we have on an everyday basis, it can be harder now more than ever to stay focused. Keeping eye contact with the person whom you’re speaking to, can help you keep that focus. If you find your eyes wandering while someone is speaking to you, that has to be your sign to come back to the person and re-adjust your eye contact.
Right now our Strengthening Effective Communication course is free using the code SUCCESS. Click here to sign up and learn more about the importance of active listening.