I was at a social gathering recently where I got to meet some nice people. Steven was especially memorable – but not in a positive way. Immediately after we were introduced and started talking, Steven focused his gaze above my head.
At first, I thought he saw something interesting hanging from the ceiling above me. After a few seconds, I realized that Steven was avoiding direct eye contact with me. I wasn’t offended. But, it did make me doubt his social confidence.
A similar thing happened with a class instructor when I was in college. He rarely made eye contact with students during a lecture. He’d look up at the classroom wall behind us. I turned around to see if there was something on the wall that he found so interesting. Nothing was there. Many of the students found it distracting.
Have you ever seen this happen with a pastor, small group leader, or anyone else in a ministry leadership position where there is face to face communication? No doubt, it has the same negative results on the listeners. Imagine your pastor delivering a sermon to your church’s congregation while looking down at notes the whole time. Poor eye contact with the congregation will diminish the impact and relational connection of the message even if the pastor’s voice doesn’t betray a sense of nerves. The value of eye contact can’t be overestimated for building better ministry relationships.
There’s power in a gaze
Think about the power of gazing in communication. Without words, a gaze can communicate kindness, or hatred, or an endless amount of intentions between the two extremes. Gaze has to do with body language – a fascinating and useful subject that I recommend studying in order to improve your communication skills.
Most experts agree that the majority of human communication is at the non-verbal level. And if there’s one part of the body that speaks loudly without words, it’s the eyes. After all, the eyes are usually where we look first on the face.
That’s why eye contact is so important. It’s one of the best ways to communicate to others that you’re paying attention to them. This is especially important within the context of ministry communication. Failing to maintain eye contact during a sermon or conversation can be interpreted as disinterest, insecurity, or superiority. None of those are messages you want to send as you reach out to others in Christ’s name.
How about sending messages of interest, respect, and trust? That’s where eye contact can really help engage your congregants. But, what kind of eye contact? Well, there are some general rules that most of us follow without realizing it. It’s a matter of striking a comfortable balance for you and the other person.
Better communication – five seconds at a time
For example, a good time interval for eye contact in a conversation is about five seconds. But, those five seconds can seem like an eternity if you’re insecure. Why? Gazing into another person’s eyes can make you feel vulnerable, as if your true intentions are easily revealed.
Have you ever tried to hide being extremely afraid, angry, or excited? Even if you can control your body, your eyes often reveal your true feelings. So, it’s common to avoid eye contact in those situations. Being honest and secure about how you feel is an important foundation for maintaining consistent eye contact. This also builds trust with your congregants.
But, be careful not to overdo it. Most people consider staring to be rude or possibly threatening. Instead, try practicing the five-second rule of eye contact. After about five seconds, you can look away for a couple of seconds and then back for another five seconds. This interval allows for short breaks while it also gives you both time to read facial reactions.
Keep your communication warm
Making consistent eye contact in a conversation helps both people to feel more respected and understood. And, it’s a relatively simple and pleasant habit to practice – at least compared to public speaking. I think most of us can agree on that one!
If you make the effort to develop your eye contact skills, I believe you’ll find your conversations to be warmer and more enjoyable which may contribute to building better ministry relationships.