Maintain Consistent Eye Contact
Being able to maintain consistent eye contact, either as a listener or as a talker, is very difficult for some people. Many say it’s easier to look at someone else who’s talking than to look at another person while you are talking. A an August 2014 article in Forbes Magazine, Carol Kinsey Goman points out that there is a “right” amount of eye contact for various situations. She encourages readers to consider Goldilocks’ lessons in the story of the three bears where Goldilocks learns that, for each of the things she does as she explores the bears’ house, the best guide was to select the item that was “right.” As you may recall, the temperature of the porridge, the size of the chair, and the comfort of the bed that she selected were “just right.”
In a networking situation, just the right amount of eye contact can be perceived by your conversation partner as more believable, confident and competent. Too little eye contact and the other person could get the idea that you are uncomfortable, unsure or not interested in the conversation. Too much eye contact and others might conclude that you are staring at them, leaving them feeling intimidated, dominated and uncomfortable. Goman suggests that just the right amount of eye contact “produces a feeling of mutual likability and trustworthiness.” That should be your goal as a networking professional.
Because an effective networking pro will be “present” and fully aware of his/her surroundings, s/he will quickly determine what amount of eye contact is “just right” for this person in this situation. Much may depend on the other person’s cultural background (in some cultures eye contact is considered disrespectful), level of self-confidence, and comfort level and experience at such events. Almost no one is comfortable with 100% eye contact with another person.
But consistent eye contact, given the networking environment and situation, is key to success in making valuable connections. In a business networking situation 75-90% will usually be enough for the other person to conclude that you are interested in learning about them. Make eye contact less than 75% and you run the risk of appearing uninterested and disconnected.
So, as you can see, the fourth tool used by highly-successful networkers is the ability to maintain consistent eye contact with their conversation partners. Give it a try at your next networking event. If you’re not used to making consistent eye contact, accept the fact that it’s tough to do. At first, you may feel like you’re staring at the other person but keep at it. Resist the urge to give up and stare at your shoes while you talk. Mastering the consistent eye contact skill is like art; it takes some practice to get it “just right.”