Have you ever had someone look at you? I mean really look at you, deeply, directly into your eyes? It can be disconcerting at times. In some places it can be a direct threat (I was born in New York City). Yet in the best of times it is a wonderful acknowledgement of the person you are. That direct, deep look fosters a connection which creates great moments of creativity, collaboration, intimacy and a host of other positive behaviors. When I connect in this manner, or someone connects with me, the ability to create something positive is almost effortless because by the simple action of looking someone in the eye, I acknowledge their personhood, uniqueness and contribution.
A principle found in Positive Psychology is that individuals and organizations tend to move in the direction that they focus on. Though this principle is not about eye contact, I think it applies very well. Think of the effect of two different experiences. In one conversation you attempt to explain your idea to someone, only to watch them looking at their Blackberry, glance at the paper, look at the floor, looking anywhere but at you. They are moving in a direction, but it is not toward you. How do you feel? How empowered are you now? Yet in a different conversation your listener looks directly into your eyes as you speak. They acknowledge the words you speak, even without saying a word. Since they are focusing only on you, it seems that they are connecting with you. Now how do you feel?
I don't know about you, but I want people around me who listen to me and look at me when I am speaking. They enliven me and make me feel that my ideas are valuable. But a more important lesson for me was learning to do the same for others. I am often distracted by my Blackberry, computer screen, or movement behind the person I'm listening to. They know it and I know it. So I use a discipline now. I make sure I see the color of their eyes. If I don't know the color of their eyes at the end of the conversation, I know I have not looked at them. Sound simple? Try it. You will find out how often you aren't really looking. More importantly, you will learn to look and connect, and those around you will want to speak with you because you make them feel great.