A study from the Journal of Safety Science indicates that when a pedestrian is crossing the street, more drivers stopped when pedestrians looked directly into their eyes as the car approached the crosswalk. That momentary direct look was all it took to cause the driver to stop and allow the person to cross the street. It’s been shown in the past that a person’s status is enhanced when direct eye contact is made.
It may be that direct eye contact triggers a desire on the part of the driver to be nice, look good, impress people, or even some guilt. Whatever it is, eye contact seems to dramatically increase the status of the person doing the looking. Other research has shown similar results, with one study proving that drivers were more likely to pick up a hitchhiker if the hitchhiker looked at them in the face.
The leadership lesson for today? Eye contact matters. It enhances your authority, gives confidence to others, and makes a dramatic difference in how they respond. Weak leaders look away and avoid eye contact, while confident leaders meet others eye-to-eye. In fact, lead researcher Dr. Nicolas Guéguen, professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud, remarked that “Some research has reported that men who gaze at other individuals in the eyes are perceived as dominant.”
Practice this week. Make the effort to make eye contact with others and notice the reaction. Leadership isn’t always about vision, strength, position, or circumstances. Sometimes, being a great leader simply is about looking people in the eye.
Have you experienced that reaction when you make eye contact?