Look Me in the Eyes

Posted 05.13.2011

Deniro Earlier this week I gave a speech to a couple of hundred managers about how to stay on track with delegation.  As part of the talk, I introduced a step by step approach to effective and worry free delegation and then had the audience split up into groups of three to practice a real life delegation conversation.  They did three quick rounds so each person had the opportunity to delegate, receive the delegated task and observe the conversation to offer feedback to the delegator. 

When they had finished all three rounds, I roamed the audience with the wireless microphone to hear what they had learned about how to improve their delegation skills. The first guy to speak up had a powerful lesson. He said, “I learned I need to look the other person in the eyes when I delegate. I need to make strong eye contact.” 

I loved his response and asked him to say a few words about why eye contact is so important when delegating. He said he had gotten feedback from his peers that he was looking down at the floor when he delegated and that led to three problems that he wanted to avoid:

1.    Lack of confidence:  By not looking the other person in the eyes, the delegator was sending the message that he wasn’t fully confident in delegating the task.

2.    Lack of connection:  When you’re asking someone to do something important, you want them to feel a connection to you that conveys how important the task is to you.  If you’re in the room with them, you’ve got to look them in the eyes to make that connection.

3.    Lack of trust:  If you’re looking at the floor when you’re asking someone to do something for you, it can send the message that you don’t really trust them to follow through. 

Remember Robert DeNiro’s character in Meet the Parents?  He was the retired CIA officer who kept saying to Ben Stiller’s Greg Fokker, “I’m watching you Fokker. Circle of trust, Greg. Circle of trust,” as he’d point at his own eyes and then to Greg’s. Funny stuff, but a great point.

You establish confidence, connection and trust by looking people in the eyes. In an age when everybody’s got their nose buried in a mobile video display, a lot of leaders are missing that opportunity.

What’s your next opportunity to build that circle of trust by looking at someone in the eyes when you talk them or make a request?