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Eye Contact across Cultures

At Corporate Speech Solutions, we provide training on speaking with confidence and projecting a self-assured, professional air in communication. To this end, we often counsel clients on how to utilize eye contact to achieve a strong, confident image. However, as globalization continues to change the face of the professional environment, it’s important to note that actions such as eye contact can change in meaning across different cultures. In the following weeks, we’ll discuss the ways that different facets of communication can vary across cultures and how to use this knowledge to avoid misunderstandings in the workplace. This week, we’ll discuss eye contact across cultures.

In American culture, strong eye contact is typically considered a sign of strength and confidence. In the professional world, averting eye contact with someone can be read in several ways. Looking down is often read as insecurity, a subconscious signal that you are uncomfortable in a situation and lack confidence in what you are saying. This can negatively impact your message and damage its credibility, as the listener subconsciously picks up on this subtle signal of self-doubt. Avoiding eye contact as you speak and allowing your eyes to dart around the room can be read as a sign of dishonesty. It’s a common belief in American culture that many people find it difficult to look someone in the eye while lying. Therefore, avoiding eye contact during a conversation can breed mistrust, and damage professional relationships. Finally, allowing your eyes to fixate on a point other than your conversation partner can signify disinterest in what the other person is saying. Gazing into the distance or at an object on your desk is often interpreted as boredom, and can be offensive to your speaker.

For Americans, it’s important to note that the above-mentioned conceptions about eye contact are not static across cultures. In many cultures, avoiding eye contact is not perceived negatively, but rather as a sign of respect. In many East Asian cultures, it is customary to avert one’s eyes when speaking with a person who is older or of more professional importance. Too much eye contact can also be read as overly aggressive or abrasive and form a negative impression.

While it’s not necessary to overhaul your cultural practices in the workplace, it is important to understand how eye contact may be perceived by other professionals in a multicultural context to avoid misunderstandings and maintain positive professional relationships.

Do you want to improve your communication skills and sharpen your speech? At Corporate Speech Solutions, our team of corporate speech-language pathologists can help you reach your professional potential through strong, confident communication. Give us a call at 212-308-7725 or visit us on the web at www.corporatespeechsolutions.com. Don’t live in NYC? No problem! Our services are Skype ready, so Corporate Speech Solutions can help you improve your communication from anywhere in the world.