We often hear that eye contact is an essential part of effective communication. I had always thought the importance of this was limited to demonstrating confidence as a speaker. I am not referring to public speaking, but simply one-on-one dialogue. Most of us might agree that eye contact when speaking can add credibility to what you are saying. By maintaining eye contact with your listener, you are sending a visual message that you fully believe what you are saying and that you stand by it. This does not mean that lack of eye contact implies doubt, but there is significantly less power in words sans eye contact.
On Sunday (10/25) I posted an article on twitter that was in the Philadelphia Inquirer that gave praise to the management style of Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel. In making comparisons, one sports journalist referred to the late Bill Walsh (former SF 49ers coach who took the team to three Super bowl wins). Bill Walsh was once asked why he choose Joe Montana who at the time was not highly regarded coming from Notre Dame. Bill Walsh reportedly said, “Too many people looked at his arm, I looked into his eyes.”
I share this because for me it points to a benefit of eye contact that might often be overlooked. As a listener, if are able to maintain eye contact, we might be surprised to learn what the speaker is really trying to say if their words on their own merit are coming up short.
The bottom line I think, is that eye contact helps communicate authenticity on both sides of the conversation. And that is critical in establishing a key foundational element in all relationships – trust.