Eye Contact

eye contact


Decades ago, I made a decision to go out of my way to treat certain people with respect. My hope is that I treat everyone with respect, but I decided to make extra sure I showed respect for one specific group of people – those who work in the service industry.

Most of my life I worked in the service industry. Fortunately, most of that was spent in management, training and overseeing employees working jobs I hated to do myself. The primary way I would show my respect was to simply refer to them by name. Since most people in the service industry wear nametags, this is easy to do. In addition to referring to people by name, I go out of my way to engage them as well. I hope that it brightens their day, but if not, it most certainly brightens mine.

How You Doin?

Back in a 2008 post, I made a commitment to no longer say “How you doin’?” When I pass someone by. Why? Because it’s insincere. Imagine if every time you said “How you doin?” to a passerby that the person would actually stop and tell you how they’re  doing. I don’t think you’d have much time left to do anything else in the day. I made a decision to say “Good day,” or at the very least, “Hello. That was 8 years ago and I’m proud to say it’s been successful. It’s actually funny to watch when I pass someone on the street who is obviously diverting their eyes or looking down. When I say “good morning” they practically jump 5 feet. I’m not meaning to catch them off guard. I’m sincerely trying to be friendly.

Eye Contact

With all the work I’ve done engaging with people and saying “hello,” and saying their name, I realized this past week that there’s something I rarely do. Rarely do I look people in the eyes. For most of my life I’ve complained that I can’t remember who people are, I don’t notice what color their eyes are, and at restaurants I have to ask my fellow diners, “Which one of them is our server?” It shocks me that I’ve been so rude and never realized it. Why has no one told me this? I’m guessing it has a lot to do with my personal self esteem.

If I’m not looking people in the eyes, where am I looking? I’m not sure. Their hair? Their chin? Their chest? Maybe all of the above. Since this realization, I have been trying to look people directly in the eyes when talking with them. It’s not natural for me to do so yet, but I’ve been trying. Eventually I’ll make it a habit that comes naturally.

What I’ve Learned

What have I learned since this realization? Oh my god, I’ve been missing out on so much. I love laughter more than anything. I love the sound, and I love the looks on people’s faces. What I never realized is that I’ve been missing out on the best part. Seeing people’s eyes squint, yet light up inside is amazing. It gets my endorphins up probably as much as exercising – maybe more. And it’s not just when they laugh. It also happens when I just have a simple conversation. To be so engaged is overwhelming and fantastic. Sometimes their lips are moving, but they’re talking with their eyes.

My commitment

Just like a commitment I made years ago to use people’s names and engage them in conversation. I am now making another commitment to look into their eyes when I’m talking with them. I know I’ll feel better for it and I’m sure they do too. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes in the long run.

If you’d like to learn more about the science of making eye contact, here’s two great articles from Psychology Today:

The Secrets of Eye Contact, Revealed
The Neuroscience of Making Eye Contact

On Another Note

Tonight at midnight PDT is the deadline for Wednesday’s “Caption This.” This is new so you may have the opportunity to be the first winner of the Crotchety Golden Unicorn Award. A truly historic event.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out yesterday’s post.

19 comments on Eye Contact

  1. This is actually fantastic (not that I expected anything else). And as someone who has worked in the service industry, may I just say thank you! There are so many times that, as I’m sure you know, a kind word-or even just feeling an inkling of respect-goes so much further than people realize.

      1. I agree. I think maybe it’s just the understanding that you mattered enough to someone else that they saw you as a person-not just another step to getting what they want.

    1. It is hard to break. I’ll admit those words come out of my mouth now and again. Fortunately I always catch myself when it happens and it reminds me to give a “more proper” greeting

  2. Wow, I love how you describe laughter! I am a huge fan of eye contact. And FWIW, you are excellent at it when we sit at a coffee shop, especially when we talk writing. 🙂

  3. I too have a hard time with eye contact. I blame being brought up to fear it as it was a challenge to fight. I’m trying to get over this, glad to know I’m not the only one who needs to work on this. Keep at it!

  4. I love everything about this post! Making eye contact is so important for so many reasons I believe. It shows you want to make a connection, are engaged, and interested. Fantastic post and I think it’s great how you want to work on it.

    1. I agree with everything you said. I was working on it today. It’s not always natural to do it, but I kept trying.

    1. Yes. I believe it can really make a difference for yourself and the people you talk with

      1. You post has been on my mind a lot since I read it. It costs nothing to show kindness and respect. From now on I’m going to read people’s name tags and talk to them using their name. You’re right, it will most likely brighten their day. If I was in their position, I know it would make me feel special. So thank you for an enlightening post, Bradley. You’ve definitely motivated me to step up 🙂

  5. I like to ask anyone who’s helping me if they like their job. “Do you like working here?” And sometimes, I carry individually-wrapped pieces of chocolate in my purse and pass them out. The other day, I sent a piece of chocolate to the bank teller who was helping me in the drive-thru, and she was so surprised and so appreciative, it literally made my day. 🙂

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