The Eyes Have It

  Dr. Anne E. Beall   

Because I write and give seminars about nonverbal communication, people often ask me what’s important when it comes to body language in an interview. 

Is there a specific sign that you have made a good impression?  Unfortunately, body language is not that simple.  One needs to look at many areas of the interviewer’s nonverbal communication.  I use a system called PERCEIVE™, which summarizes all the major areas of nonverbal behavior.  In this guest post I’d like to discuss one area of PERCEIVE™, which is the eyes. 

When you’re interviewing, you can determine how interested the interviewer is in what you’re saying and how much this person likes you from their eye behavior.   Obviously having the interviewer’s interest and liking are both crucial to getting a job.  Below is an excerpt from my recent book ‘Reading the Hidden Communications Around You.’ 

The Eyes Reveal Liking and Interest
Generally, we look longer and more frequently at people and things that have our attention. That point seems almost intuitively obvious given that we rely on our sight probably more than any other sense when we are gathering information about the world. We reveal if we are engaged with a presentation by how much we view its content. We reveal how interested we are in another person’s conversation by how much we look at him while he is talking. In one study researchers found that people tend to gaze more at someone who is giving them positive feedback but that they reduce their gaze when they are receiving negative feedback.  The eyes reveal how much we want to take in around us.

What’s amazing about eye behavior is that we secretly reveal whom we like and dislike just by the amount that we look at them. Aside from the intentional stare that is associated with anger and a desire for a confrontation, we generally look most at those whom we like and find rewarding. In one study, men looked more at other men with whom they had just conversed and who had nodded at them during a presentation.  It’s unlikely that these men had formed strong feelings of liking but that they had mildly positive feelings about the other person, and their eye behavior showed it. People avoid looking at someone who has just made negative comments about their performance and who is presumably mildly disliked.  Mothers of children who have temperament problems actually look less at their problematic children.

Gazing also reveals prejudices. In a study of racial prejudice, researchers had people interview with Caucasian or African American interviewers. The interviewees who felt the greatest racial prejudice toward African Americans actually gazed less at the African American interviewer. Of course, they didn’t know they were looking less at the interviewer or that their attitudes about an entire race were being betrayed by their eyes. As people increase their liking for one another, they increase the amount of mutual gazing that they do. (Mutual gaze is when two people are looking into each other’s eyes). The most obvious example of this occurs along the continuum of relationships. We don’t look for long periods at strangers, but we clearly engage in mutual gaze with our good friends. Romantic relationships have the highest amount
of mutual gaze.

If you want to learn more about reading body language, Anne Beall’s book is:  Reading the Hidden Communications Around You: A Guide to Reading Body Language in the Workplace.

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