Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Anne Hathaway, Robert DeNiro and Your Awesome Career

the intern movie picWhen talking to interviewers and prospective employers, it’s a good thing to look them squarely in the eye.

This conveys likeability, comfort, trustworthiness and confidence.

But do it the wrong way and you might end up freaking them out – which is a bad thing.

The difference can be subtle.

“Too much eye contact is instinctively felt to be rude, hostile and condescending,” writes Dr. Carol Goman in Forbes. “[I]n a business context, it may also be perceived as a deliberate intent to dominate, intimidate, belittle or make the other feel at a disadvantage, which was how Goldilocks felt when the bears caught her eating their porridge. Too little, on the other hand, can make you appear uneasy, unprepared and insincere.”

The 30-60 Percent Sweet Spot

The goal, then, is a “just-right” amount of eye contact. But how much is that? It depends on the setting, circumstances and purpose of the encounter, experts say. Cultural and social norms also come into play.

According to Dr. Goman, direct eye contact should occur between 30 and 60 percent of the time you are conversing: more when you are listening, less when you are speaking.

Here are six other tips for looking good in your next professional encounter:

  1. Eye contact decreases when you are ashamed, sad, depressed or hiding something.
  2. It increases in intimate, personal settings.
  3. Women tend to make more eye contact than men, which is why men are comfortable holding conversations while standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
  4. In places where we fill uneasy or unsafe – dark hallways, elevators, crowded lobbies – we pull out our phones or stare at the wall. Anything to protect our personal space and avoid looking at strangers.
  5. If you make too little eye contact it might appear that you are zoning out or disinterested, even if that is not the case.
  6. It is a myth that liars won’t look you in the eye. In fact, accomplished prevaricators are aware of this, and they overcompensate by boring right into your eyeballs.

Research shows we are biologically engineered to reward people who look us in the eye. It’s one of our earliest survival patterns. Newborns look their caregivers in the eye when they want to be fed or tended to. In school, children who invite and maintain eye contact get more attention from teachers. These patterns carry over into our adult lives.

Tips from The Intern

The movie The Intern offers a cautionary lesson on the power and pitfalls of eye contact.

In the film, boss Anne Hathaway sizes up job candidates according to whether they blink enough. She is weirded-out by people who never blink, and she makes hiring decisions on that basis.

Knowing this, prospective intern Robert DeNiro goes into an interview blinking like a madman.  Which makes everyone uncomfortable. Despite this, he gets the job and is a whopping success.

The point is that eye contact is only one tool in your career toolkit. Work with it. Keep it sharp. But use it in a way that feels right for you. And don’t forget to use all the other conversational techniques at your disposal – active listening, empathy, humor and most of all, preparation.

A final tip: before your next big interview spend some time in front of the mirror practicing eye contact. Just remember to blink.

Sources:

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney who has practiced North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at jay.reeves@ymail.com.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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