William Shakespeare said, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” If you subscribe to this, then you are likely among the many who believe if someone cannot look you in the eyes then they are somehow untrustworthy and has something to hide. That works well if you are the one looking into folk’s eyes trying to figure out if you can trust the person before you. But, if you are the one trying to be trusted but for some reason you lack that particular soft skill, then it could cost you big.
Do not mistake this as a blog post designed to train or somehow encourage those who cannot maintain eye contact to develop that skill. That is a post for another day. Rather, this is to turn the mirror on those who do well with that skill in hopes that they can also develop an understanding of those who do not. By better understanding why someone may not maintain good eye contact and learning to interpret what they can provide, the layers of mistrust can be wiped away and you may just find yourself in a great personal or professional relationship.
There are three main reason people avoid eye contact. There is a disability, focus was never given to developing that skill, or they are, in fact, being deceptive. To determine if deception is at play, ask an open-ended personal question. If in an interview or other professional setting rather than saying, “Tell me about yourself,” which will usually be followed by a rehearsed statement of qualifications, say something like, “I often think of what I would be doing if I didn’t do this job. What did you always want to do?” or “I love this time of year but sure wish I was on a beach somewhere. (LOL) Have you been anywhere recently?” Giving details about yourself first will typically catch someone off guard; especially in a professional environment. Their actions and words that follow will give you clues to whether they exemplify deceit or are just challenged with holding eye contact.
For example, jumping directly into a story while maintaining eye contact, then progressively breaking eye contact as the story lengthens is indicative of a storyteller sharing untruths and trying to think of what to say next. This form of deception may be because they are trying to impress you. I cannot speak to motive. You will need to determine, based on the nature of the relationship you are seeking to develop, whether or not their bluffing matters.
Someone who has a cognitive, developmental, or physical disability that makes maintaining eye contact a challenge will typically be willing to disclose that information. An autistic adult, for example, has unfortunately had to explain themselves for years and may include it in their introduction so any unconventional behaviors are experienced within a context. Take into account the role that person will serve and the tasks they must perform before you determine they cannot add value because they are challenged with eye contact in certain situations; particularly since there are legal ramifications with such decisions.
Distinguishing someone who is outright untrustworthy from a person who simply has not developed the skill of maintaining eye contact can be a challenge. There are reasons someone may have not developed this skill during their life’s experiences. For example, they may have experienced abuse or domestic violence where eye contact is condemned and reprimanded. Often individuals who have not experienced a great deal of socialization, such as only children, exhibit limited eye contact. They lacked opportunities to practice or learn its social contexts or when, where, how, and with whom to utilize and maintain eye contact.
Any of these individuals may be the missing piece in your business, the one with the valuable insight you never considered, the voice of reason to help you avoid conflict, or the compassionate person you have been looking for to represent your passion. I do not know. What is most important is that you will never know if you immediately dismiss them because they did not look at you for your pre-determined acceptable amount of time. Consider the entire person in front of you and know that while there are those who do not maintain eye contact because they are dishonest, there are far more who just have to learn to do better. For them, lack of eye contact does not have to be a deal breaker.