Decline in Eye Contact a Concerning Trend

July 1st, 2013 | Posted by Bob Schultz in Communication Skills

Eye contact conveys confidence and respect, and facilitates a personal connection. Since these are critical elements of a successful sales process, the declining use of eye contact could be very problematic for sales professionals.

In her recent Wall Street Journal article, Just Look Me in the Eye Already, author Sue Shellenbarger examines the causes and effects associated with the trend of declining eye contact, writing “…there are signs that the decline of eye contact is a growing problem.” According to communications-analytics company Quantified Impressions (Austin, TX), adults make eye contact between 30% and 60% of the time in an average conversation, but they should be making eye contact 60%-70% of the time.

Why is it a big deal? According to Quantified Impressions, eye contact conveys confidence and respect. During a debate or disagreement it signals strength. Perhaps more relevant, people who avoid eye contact are often seen as untrustworthy, disrespectful, lacking confidence or just plain rude.

Too much eye contact can cause problems as well. According to Ben Decker of Decker Communications (San Francisco), holding eye contact for 7-10 seconds in a one-on-one conversation and 3-5 seconds in a group setting is optimal in a professional setting, adding that holding eye contact for more than 10 seconds can seem aggressive, empty or inauthentic. Of course, culture can be a significant factor in eye-contact practice as well. This is all quite a bit to consider as we’re trying to use eye contact to convey sincerity and make a personal connection. Shellenbarger suggests watching yourself speak on a video recording to raise your awareness.

The decline in eye contact seems rooted in mobile devices and increasingly remote interaction for business. Consider the youngest generation of professionals (twentysomethings). Their comfort with and attachment to electronic devices, and their tendency to multi-task, have made them very comfortable talking without making eye contact. Perhaps this is a sign of things to come; but for now, eye contact is preferred and expected by the business leaders who make purchase decisions. Young sales professionals who make eye contact in the 60%-70% range might very well distinguish themselves from their less inclined peers to great advantage.

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