Michael Ellsberg is the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late, out Sep. 29th, 2011 from Penguin/Portfolio, and The Power of Eye Contact: Your Secret For Success in Business, Love and Life, from HarperCollins. He also writes a blog on entrepreneurialism, career development, and education at Forbes.com.
Michael Ellsberg: Imagine walking through life with a really bad handshake. Like, every time you shook someone’s hand, which is probably two or three times a day it was like one of those really icky, limp kind of icky handshakes that just left the other person kind of nervous and gave them the heebie-jeebies. Well, we all know that that’s something very simple. A handshake actually has a large impact on your first impression when meeting people socially. There is this whole other area called eye contact where most people are very bad at it. They either get nervous about it and don’t make eye contact, or they make a very kind of nervous, anxious kind of eye contact. It’s not the only thing obviously that leads to success, but it’s actually surprisingly impactful and surprisingly influential. Just like you need to stand up and stand tall and have good posture and have a good handshake, you also have to have good eye contact. It’s very important.
The kind of eye contact you want to have when you go into a job interview is neither too aggressive nor too weak. It’s walking this perfect middle line that is called confidence. So, if you err too far on the other side, you’re going to be looked at as unconfident--if you’re not making eye contact, if you’re kind of nervously flitting about like this--not a good way to be viewed in a job interview. The other extreme is if you’re bearing down on a person like this with a really intense eye contact. That is not viewed upon well because it’s very aggressive and it looks like you’re trying to brow beat your interviewer, which is not the impression you want to make.
So the right way to do it is what I call a "soft gaze." You don’t have those Superman laser beams coming out of your eyes where you’re really, really intensely focused. It’s just like a soft focus--your interviewer’s face is not sharply, sharply in focus; you’re taking in your interviewer’s whole face. It’s a dance of eye contact where you are following their lead to a certain extent. They make a little eye contact, you make a little eye contact. They look away, you look away.
Now this is a lot to remember. Don’t practice this your first time when you have a really important job interview. That’s the wrong place to practice this. The right place is with your friends, at a restaurant with waiters, with waitresses, with sales staff. They often are very conscious of eye contact and they’re trying to sell you something, so they want to make eye contact. It’s a great free laboratory to practice this stuff.
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