Whether you’re interviewing for a new job or meeting with a client to negotiate a contract, you should always maintain eye contact, right? Wrong.
In a new study conducted by psychologist professors from Harvard University, the University of Freiburg and the University of British Columbia, researchers discovered that staring directly into someone’s eyes is not always the appropriate method to actually win over their approval.
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“There is a lot of cultural lore about the power of eye contact as an influence tool,” Frances Chen, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and lead researcher says. “But our findings show that direct eye contact makes skeptical listeners less likely to change their minds, not more, as previously believed.”
To test the theory, researchers placed students in front of screens to watch videos of people who were making arguments about controversial subjects such as farming practices and hiring quotas for women. Initially, the students did not agree with the stance of the speakers. Using advanced eye-tracking technology, the team of professors were able to determine where research participants were positioning their eyes. Ultimately, they discovered that participants were more likely to switch their positions and agree with speakers when they focused on their mouths instead of their eyes.
I can guess what many professionals might say: this is a video test? Well, then, these findings don’t really apply. However, it’s important to note that more organizations are switching to virtual conferences and virtual job interviews. Technology is replacing many situations that used to be reserved solely for face-to-face interaction.
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Now, the results are not an indication that you should try to let your eyes wander when talking with colleagues and clients. However, they do show that some people simply don’t feel as comfortable gazing directly into another set of eyes. It’s important to remember to make your business conversations comfortable situations rather than awkward staring contests.
“Whether you’re a politician or a parent, it might be helpful to keep in mind that trying to maintain eye contact may backfire if you’re trying to convince someone who has a different set of beliefs than you,” Julia Minson, assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and another member of the research team, says. Looking for more negotiation tactics? Check out this PCMA resource.