How To Use Eye Contact to Boost Recognition Effectiveness

Recognition is a positive form of expression and meaningfully conveyed through the eyes. They have described our eyes as “the windows to the soul.” Using appropriate eye contact, when in the right country, can be a great behavioral skill and enhancer to improving the recognition you give to people.

Your eyes can become a great connecting force with recognition giving.

Cultural Appropriateness of Eye Contact

Traditionally, in North America, making eye contact is non-verbally interpreted as showing interest and paying attention to someone. This is a supportive behavior when acknowledging people.

It is acceptable for children, adults, and people of both sexes to make eye contact with other people. We can always see extended or lengthy eye contact as challenging those in authority.

Contrast this with Asian cultures such as China and Japan where only sporadic or brief eye contact is considered acceptable. Here children show respect to elders by not making intense eye contact. Similarly, employees would not make eye contact with employers and students would not force eye contact with their teachers. Avoiding eye contact is interpreted as being polite or reverent.

For Asian, African, and Latin America cultures, be careful with making eye contact with anyone seen as superior in social ranking or in work position. Someone perceives making eye contact for too long as challenging the other person or a sign of disrespect.

Understanding Eye Contact

Eye contact is gazing directly at another person’s eyes. And mutual eye contact occurs when two people make eye contact simultaneously. 

Research shows that when two people are in casual conversation, eye contact occurs about 61% of the time, and about half of that is mutual eye contact. Did you know that people make eye contact 75% of the time while listening and 41% of the time while speaking?

Recipients of recognition will make eye contact with you three quarters of the time. That’s a lot!

While it’s clear people spend more total time looking in the eyes of another person when listening than speaking, the length of gaze between people also varies. We make long gazes with our conversational partners and look away only briefly when we are listening. And we make shorter gazes of about equal length, both at and away from our conversational partners, when we’re the ones doing the talking.

Russian Writer, Sholem Aleichem wrote about Tevye the Dairyman, from which they based the musical Fiddler on the Roof. He once wrote “When the heart is full, the eyes overflow.” That’s the same for recognition. When you’re proud of someone or happy for them your feelings come out through your eyes and your mouth.

Your goal is to remember to look people in the eyes, wherever appropriate, and to strive to connect; person-to-person, heart-to-heart, and let your eyes overflow with positive emotion.

Please be sensitive to individuals with social anxiety disorders or social communication deficits. They will not display the average levels of eye contact that others do. But they will still feel your genuine respect and concern for them as you sincerely communicate your recognition to them.

If you’re not already aware of using eye contact well when acknowledging people, consider adding meaningful and sincere eye gaze to your expressions.

Recognition Reflection: How much eye contact do you use when giving recognition to people?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

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