I learned a trick about talking to people that I thought helped immensely. Since I’m not the kind of person who automatically knows where to look when people are talking to me, I began to focus on the bridge of their nose. I noticed that people seemed immediately to look more comfortable when I did that.
I thought it was because they liked what I was looking at. It wasn’t as intrusive as looking straight in their eyes, and there wasn’t any risk of looking at the wrong eye. It turns out, though, there was probably another reason they looked more comfortable.
One day I tried looking in someone’s eyes and I found they were still fine. Well, I thought, if they’re comfortable either way, there must not be anything magic about that spot on the bridge of the nose. What’s the common element?
It turns out I was the common element. For years before I discovered my “trick,” I must have been zipping all around with my eyes, never settling on anything. Once I actually found something to look at, whether it was their eyes or the bridge of their nose, it changed the conversation.
Why? Because I looked different. I believe they were responding, not to where I was looking, but to how I looked!
When my eyes were focused on them, they liked the appearance of it. I came across as focused, comfortable. Even though I may have been focused and comfortable with my eyes darting all around, it didn’t look that way to them!
I tell this story to point out the huge, even unfair, impact my appearance has on people. They tend to respond to my expression, and with my intense facial features, a little change makes a big difference. Therefore, it’s worth my time to invest a little bit in strategies to modify how I’m coming across.
That can be something as simple as knowing that people react better to stable eyes than darting ones. These are tricks that veteran performers know: how to stand, how to pose, how to look at the camera. It’s why they come across so successfully on stage.
The trick, however, is to be able to embody these parts of ourselves without being manipulative. Knowing that the movement of my eyes will affect the conversation is not the same as trying to make someone like me by keeping my eyes still. The first takes my audience into account as part of the interaction, while the second is a cause-effect calculation to control them.
Admittedly an obsessive-compulsive blog today. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has thought about this topic to this extent. How am I coming across?