The missing eye contact at work

During a virtual interaction, we often forget to make eye contact, the common social interaction tool that can make a world of difference while interacting with human beings

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An established business leader in the fashion and retail industry was sharing his experience of addressing an audience at a virtual conference. While on the call, he spoke flawlessly and was able to answer each and every question comfortably. All seemed to have gone well and he thought he had done a great job when the interaction ended. However, after the event, when he watched the recorded stream, he realised that the interaction was not really that great.

He noticed that while he was talking, there was no proper eye contact with the interviewer or the audience. To him, it all appeared very disconnected. After this incident, he noticed the same problem during weekly update meetings with his colleagues on Zoom.

“It is easy to make an immediate connect when one meets a person physically. This is because the body language is visible and there is proper eye contact, which makes it easier to build a strong relationship.”

VDV Singh, former VP-HR, JK Cement

Today, when professionals and employees everywhere are collaborating through virtual tools, the impact of the missing eye contact is felt more strongly during interactions.

VDV Singh, former VP-HR, JK Cement believes that eye contact does impact relationships a lot. With even the body language of the other person being invisible sometimes, there is definitely an adverse effect on relationships. He explains that this particularly affects the relationship between colleagues who are interacting for the first time.

“Colleagues who have known each other for years may not find it difficult to connect, because they understand each other very well and their bond is already a well-established one. New joinees, on the other hand, who interact for the first time, will find it extremely tough to establish a connect. As a result no bond is formed during the very first interaction. Frequent calls —audio and video — are required to build on the relationship and this takes time. On other hand, it is easy to make an immediate connect when one meets a person physically. This is because the body language is visible and there is proper eye contact, which makes it easier to build a strong relationship,” enunciates Singh.

Prasad Kulkarni, SVP-HR, The Citco Group, if of the opinion that in the new normal, organisations should acknowledge this as a challenge. “Absence of eye contact during a virtual interaction, reflects disinterest or inattentiveness, which is certainly not a good signal to send,” says Kulkarni. However, he also admits that this is not a new issue. Many global organisations have teams working in different geographies that have been following this form of communication for a long time.

“Absence of eye contact during a virtual interaction, reflects disinterest or inattentiveness, which is certainly not a good signal to send.”

Prasad Kulkarni, SVP-HR, The Citco Group

Research has also shown that eye contact during a video call can also result in the same kind of psychological responses that are derived from a face-to-face physical interaction. Eye contact while addressing someone further leads to certain kinds of expressions, such as a simple smile on the other person’s face.

There are a several benefits of establishing eye contact during a conversation. Not only does it establish a better connect, but the other person feels cared for and becomes aware of the other’s interest to listen or pay attention.

From the speaker’s point of view too, it leads to a feeling of confidence with regard to the message being delivered.

Lastly, it does lead to a better and more meaningful engagement with people. When the audience is attentive, their expression say it all. The interested ones will be nodding, frowning or smiling at the right moments during the interaction and participating actively. This naturally results in establishing a better connect.

Singh shares that in universities today, students are being taught and trained on how to present themselves on a video call.

Having worked in different organisations, Kulkarni admits that he has seen people being trained on the proper way to attend meetings on a video call or a virtual platform. There are proper guidelines on how to have a video call chat. “Although this is not something new, now there is a larger part of the workforce that requires to collaborate on virtual platforms. We just need to think of different ways to communicate with each other and also decide on the frequency of calls and video interactions,” says Kulkarni.

Another technological challenge is that we are used to looking at the screen while talking and not at the web cam. This gives an impression of absence of eye contact to the other person. While this is a technical challenge, we can train ourselves to overcome this issue so that better connect can be established even over virtual platforms. After all, during these challenging times, we have to make the best use of technology to bring people together and build bonds.

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