Please look at me because eye contact makes you real and likable
Sawubona. This is the Zulu greeting for “hello” from my native South Africa. But the literal translation of Sawubona means ‘I see you’ and the response, ‘Ngikhona’ means ‘I am here’. Inherent in the Zulu greeting and our grateful response, is the sense that until you saw me, I didn’t exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence. A Zulu proverb clarifies this, “Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu”, meaning, “A person is a person because of other people”.
So think about this: when you make eye contact with other people, you bring them into existence. You connect them to the world that you represent. By looking directly at people, you acknowledge their presence and make them real. Without that connection, they may feel isolated and even disoriented.
According to the New York Times on Sunday May 18 2014, researchers have found that children and adults who avoid or who are denied eye contact are more likely to suffer from depression. The hypothesis is that the relationship between less eye contact and psychological problems is circular and reinforcing. This is alarming in a society where people increasingly spend more time looking at their mobile devices than one another.
What happens when you make eye contact with someone? You feel an emotional surge that is also physical. Depending on who you’re eye-contacting, you’re igniting a range of chemical reactions from joy to excitement to love and even fear. In that moment, you’re transported out of your head into a shared reality that you’re mutually creating with another person.
Atsushi Senju, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of London, states that a richer mode of communication is possible right after making eye contact. He says, “it amplifies your ability to compute all the signals so you are able to read the other person’s brain.” In other words, eye contact makes us more self aware and empathetic.
Avoiding eye contact out of fear or insecurity, or breaking eye contact to read a text or an email, degrades your social facility and emotional intelligence. On the other hand, all the research shows that people who make eye contact are perceived as more likable and trustworthy.
The bottom line is that eye contact is the basis of connection and if you don’t get it directly from others, you won’t get much of anything else. So no matter what your dominant mode of communication or the distance between you and others, find a way to come face-to-face and make eye contact. And when you are near others, make eye contact with them. Sometimes all it takes is a second, and sometimes it needs to be sustained. But look up at the person in front of you, not down at the device in your hand.
Mike Lipkin is one of the world’s leading motivational speakers, helping to guide individuals and corporations on their “path to pre-eminence” in whatever it is they set out to do. For more information on booking Mike Lipkin for a speaking presentation, click here.