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Are You Guilty Of Committing The Ultimate Conversational Sin?  

Ever been in a crowd of people, engaged in one-on-one conversation with another person, and while you’re talking, she’s looking, not at you, but beyond you, eyes darting around as if to see who else more important than you is in the room?  

How’d you feel?  

Your logical conclusion is one of three:  I’m boring… I’ve got spinach in my teeth… or she’s rude and has no conversational etiquette.  I can’t prove it’s not one of the first two, but I’m willing to bet the third is at play.  

A foundational rule of politeness:  Make eye contact.  

The #1 sin of courteous conversation is not paying attention, being distracted, not making eye contact.  

But wait — it’s bigger than that.  Eye contact is also a basic component of high integrity leadership.  

Why?  Because shifty eyes are often interpreted as ‘shifty person’.  Translation:  you’ll be viewed as untrustworthy, insincere, deceptive.  You don’t want that.  

Actions For You:  

When someone is speaking to you, put down your reading material, stop opening envelopes, quit checking email, take no calls, don’t look at others, ignore everything else.  

Face him eyeball to eyeball… and fully listen.  Be present and in the moment.  

It’s been said of the late Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, that when she spoke to you in a full auditorium, she made you feel like you were the only person on the planet.  Full attention on you, no darting glances elsewhere.  What a gift she gave.  

Hey, if you’re busy and can’t focus, that’s okay.  Just say “I’m sorry, now’s not a good time.  I’m in the middle of something and you deserve better.  Can we set a time to talk later so I can give you my full attention?”  

Making eye contact for 5 to 8 seconds, looking away briefly, then returning (no intense ‘stalker stares’)… will win you the hearts of more people than you can imagine… because the recipient interprets it as:  I’m important, I’m special, I matter, I’m worth it.  It puts people at ease, pays them a compliment, builds relationships.  

How well would others say you do at this?  Ask someone who will tell you the brutal truth.  

If the answer is ‘lousy’, it is NOT okay.  You’re a leader.  So get good at it… practice with family or friends… or it will result in outcomes you don’t want.  

Like lack of trust in you, departure of superstars, indifference of employees, and mistreatment of customers.  

Yes, something as simple as not looking people in the eye can cause any of those.  

So, vow to improve, starting with the next conversation you have… which could be mere seconds away.  It will pay dividends.

Power Thought:   “The most important things in those first few seconds are, basically, a firm handshake and a smile, good eye contact, and really paying attention.”   Pat Schaumann, president of 3 St. Louis companies in the meetings, events, and destination management business, twice-named “One of the Top 25 Most Influential People In the Meeting Industry” by Meeting News magazine, named “One of the Magnificent Seven in the Hospitality Industry” by Successful Meetings magazine, adjunct professor at 5 universities, author, speaker.    


Want More? To learn about Rick Houcek’s full range of strategic planning retreats, goal setting workshops, keynote speaking, leadership training, and books/CDs on peak performance — specifically for entrepreneurs, CEOs, presidents, senior executives, managers, team leaders, and other high achievers — visit — or contact Rick Houcek at 770-391-9122 or

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