Thursday, April 10, 2008

These Eyes

We all know the advantages of eye contact. But, have you really given the “avoid looking at me” strategy a chance? There are times when eye contact simply gets in the way of good communication. This is especially true when you want to lie, have to admit a wrongdoing, or are asking for a new ________________ (fill in the blank: bass boat, fur coat, diamond ring, Bentley, etc).

Don’t be put off by the idea that lack of eye contact only means something is not quite right. There are more honorable uses for the no eye contact technique. It works particularly well on teens, but could also be useful for husbands (well, I have to write what I know) who don’t like to have “deep” conversations on topics such as, “how was work today, honey?” And I think it also could work for job candidates or future son-in-laws. Really the possibilities are endless.

Every mother of a child over 16 knows this technique. Put the kid in the car, turn the radio to your music, not theirs, and start driving. If you can plan to travel during a rainstorm and at night, your position is strengthened. Of course, there are some preparatory measures. “Forget” all power cords and adapters that can be used in the car. Let the target’s phone, DVD player, laptop battery run down, and find a reason to drive for a distance longer than two hours preferably on a road that requires little of your own extensive driving skills. Once the ideal conditions are set, and the target is seat belted and power locked in, you are ready to begin.

But don’t start communicating right away. Immediate jabbering or grilling has the potential to sabotage good planning. First, you turn the radio up a bit as if you also do not care to have a verbal exchange. If you are lucky something thematic like Frankie Valli whining, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” will be playing. Listen to a few songs, then about the time you think the teen is going to crack from thirty minutes of the best of the 50s, 60s or 70s, turn the volume down and tell them something about yourself. “Hey, did you know I started taking a class in fencing?” Expected response, “uh huh.” Keep this up for a short while and then turn the music back up. In a few minutes back down goes the music. This is sort of like doing reps and sets at the gym. On your third set don’t turn the music volume back up. By now you have clearly established that you are in control of the radio which will be essential later when conversation gets ‘deep’. The silence, with no cell phone, video game, laptop computer to distract will serve as the impetus for the target to finally say something. It might not be much but you seize upon it like a government inspector on an American Airlines’ plane. JUST DON’T MAKE EYE CONTACT. No loving glances, no winking, blinking or even looking out the passenger side mirror to avoid the 18 wheeler who you are certain has a sleeping driver aboard. As long as everybody stares straight ahead, the magic of the no eye contact technique will begin to loosen tongues of even the most strident silent type. And then with Helen Reddy quietly singing “I Am Woman” in the background, you will be able to find out what you did wrong as a parent, why he really hated high school that last year, what his dreams and fears are for the future. Or in the case of your husband you might find out how his day really was at work.

Why does this work? I do not know and have not taken the time or really cared to research it. I just know it works. Besides, as with many theories, the why is not really relevant. Maybe staring straight ahead makes us feel like we are talking mostly to ourselves. My best audience. Maybe we avoid the threatening or judgmental look that, whether imaginary or real, we learn to avoid lest it makes us feel small, not good enough or embarrassed. So, as with all rules, “look a person straight in the eye when you speak to them,” there is the exception.


Anonymous said...

Interesting concept and have to admit I haven't tried it. However, I will give it a try with the hubby sometime soon and report back.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

Definitely let me know how it goes ...

Anonymous said...

You hear so much about the importance of eye contact and if they don't look you in the eye they are not telling you the truth. I like your exception to the rule. I catch myself sometimes not looking at the individual (short periods) to collect my thoughts or to reflect on what the individual has said. I have had several candid conversations with my dad while driving - it's the most he talks and so I take advantage of every opportunity to be one on one with him in the car. I will have to try it on my kids.