The Quickest Way to Kill a Connection

I’ve talked a lot about what I believe to be the key to a successful life. And a happy one.

Connecting with people.

  • It gets others to believe us and trust us…
  • Which makes them want to engage with us on a deeper level…
  • And refer others to do the same…

I’ve touched on why this is trickier than it sounds – and one guaranteed way to do it – in what’s turned out to be one of my most popular blogs: How to Engage Absolutely Anybody.

But sometimes all of that advice doesn’t matter. Because there’s still one little mistake we make that messes it up. Every time.

And we’ve got to fix it.

So we’ll do it today.

Allow me to illustrate that little mistake through a quick tale.

It happened just last week, sitting with a guy named Ed, and things were rolling. He was talking about his job in public relations. We were connecting…the conversation was flowing…and then…

He let his eyes wander around the room.  He lost eye contact.

And in that single second, our connection was broken.

In that second it became clear that our conversation was not that important to him. That I wasn’t worth his full attention.

That, perhaps, he was looking for someone who was.

It’s quite simple. Connecting with people begins with eye contact.

Lose it and lose the connection.

You might think you know this. You might be absolutely positive it doesn’t apply to you.

Stick with me for a minute.

I promise you – it does. I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t see it happen every day, with everyone from corporate managers to boards of directors to highly qualified business professionals.

I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t guilty of it myself – every day.

And I’m really aware of it.

We all do it.

  • We’ll be in a meeting and – just for a moment – our eyes roam to the clock, the plaque on the wall, the people talking quietly to each other across the table.
  • We’ll be at a popular restaurant with a co-worker and our eyes wander to the door to see if anyone we know comes in.
  • We’re at a luncheon – one where our whole goal is to meet other people – and we focus away from the one in front of us to the others we might go to next.

In a world that’s chock full of new ways to connect, the irony is that connecting is more difficult than ever.

  • Concentrating on one person is hard because because there’s so much going on around us.
  • Focusing on just one thing at a time is hard because we’re used to doing so many different things at once.
  • Keeping eye contact is hard because our usual modes of communication are keyboards and phone pads.

Great leaders know there is no excuse not to engage with others.

They also know what true engagement means:

…treating others like they are the most important people in the room.

…getting them to talk to you about their lives, their perspectives, their opinions.

…keeping their eye contact so they believe you really care as they do it.

This week, as you speak with others, notice how tempted you are to let your eyes wander to something else – how you do it out of pure habit.

Then force yourself – really force yourself – to keep eye contact.

Do. Not. Look. Away. First.

Sit with your back to the door if you must. Turn your phone off. Force yourself to hold someone’s gaze until it hurts.

Do this and connect.

Do this, and know that you stand out from just about everyone else in the room.

Do this and know you’ll form the strongest relationships around.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

3 thoughts on “The Quickest Way to Kill a Connection

  1. Great post Deirdre! Have to admit it, I have been guilty of the ‘too cool for school room scan’. But, I think there is an opportunity here to consider cultural perspectives and norms vis-a-vis eye contact. Cultures subscribe differing values to how eye contact is used or not used. Culturally speaking, Americans tend to have a general sense that a break in eye contact, or not using eye contact at all, is negative, an indication that someone has something to hide. Depending on where you grew up, you may have a very different interpretation of this. I concede though, that it is nearly impossible to mistake that feeling that the person you are talking to is not really “there with you.” But, it is not always through eye contact that they manifest this. There are masters among us who can maintain eye contact while constantly monitoring their other radars for people of greater interest to them. The point I am taking away from this is to remain genuine and connected to those that ARE presently in your space.

  2. runell says:

    So true, but it reminds me of a conversation between myself and two other people. One person asked the other “why are you staring at me?”, though she was just trying to maintain eye contact and listen with interest to what he was saying. It was quite awkward. So I suppose it’s important to remember that there is a fine line between maintaining eye contact and staring. Perhaps a blink rate is to be considered 🙂

  3. Patty Costa says:

    Thank you Deirdre as always for another good reminder. I know when I think someone is distracted I don’t feel like sharing with that person anymore. If I have something important to say, I want you to listen. I think we have so many distractions like ipods, cell phones, texting in our world today, we may find it hard to STOP!

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