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Eye contact may not be such a great way to persuade (Psychology Today)

Eye contact and selling

Is more eye contact the answer?

David DiSalvo recently wrote in Psychology Today about the latest research on the role of eye contact in persuasion. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it appears that in some circumstances too much direct eye contact can be detrimental to getting your point across.

From a sales perspective, this makes sense to me. If you have a relationship with the customer you will automatically tend to have more eye contact. If you don’t know them very well, or they are raising an objection then using too much eye contact can be interpreted as “staring them down”. One thing that I’m certain about is that avoiding eye contact never comes across well.

How and when you look someone in the eyes is such an innate thing that it’s quite difficult to deconstruct what you’re doing (the researchers in the quoted study used the latest eye-tracking technology). Also the sales dynamic should be qualitatively different from that in the study where participants are passively watching a speaker.  In sales we’re aiming for an active conversation with a customer not to just talk at them. So who is talking, who’s listening, who’s taking notes, who’s thinking, who’s presenting at any particular time will all affect eye contact.

In fact this scientific research seems to reinforce the old adage “telling isn’t selling”. Have a read of David’s piece (the first couple of paras are below) and let me know what you think?

Few popular beliefs are as unshakable as, “If you want to influence someone, always make direct eye contact.” But new research suggests that this bit of sturdy pop lore is hardly gospel—in fact, in many circumstances a direct gaze may result in the exact opposite effect.

Researchers from Harvard, the University of British Columbia and the University of Freiberg used newly developed eye-tracking technology to test the claim during two experiments. In the first, they had study participants watch a speaker on video while tracking their eye movements, and then asked how persuaded they were by the speaker. Researchers found that the more time participants spent looking into the speaker’s eyes, the less persuaded they were by the speaker’s argument. The only time looking into the speaker’s eyes correlated with being influenced was when the participants already agreed with the speaker’s opinions.

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