Things We All Control

Let’s put an end to NOT looking people in the eye so you don’t have to smile or say hello. I think 2016 should be The Year of Connection, and I’m not talking digitally here, but face-to-face.

How often do you avert your eyes from others when in public situations, such as when you’re walking on the beach or on the streets, at gatherings or meetings, or just waiting for the elevator? Over the decades we’ve lost the art of making purposeful eye contact with strangers, especially these days, when it’s all too easy to pull a cell-phone from your pocket and look busy.

Where Did Manners Go?

Did you know that in the late 1800s, people actually concentrated on learning public manners? There were rules of civility when meeting people. Men were expected to make eye contact when passing other men on the street and acknowledge passersby with an inclination of the head or a gesture of the hand, or just touching their hat. They were expected to be a bit more formal when actually meeting a woman, bowing to a lady and lifting the hat from the head.

Our public manners today would be appalling to 19th Century men and women. People passing each other on the street today do their best NOT to make contact—eyes straight forward, wearing earphones or busily thumbing mobile phones. Today the mere thought of looking strangers in the eye and smiling at them is out of the ordinary. In fact, it’s considered downright peculiar or invasive to some.

I think this is a dangerous road to travel as a society. Allowing ourselves to become insular and self-focused in the presence of other people isn’t just rude, it robs us of our humanity. At its worst it makes us slow to come to the aid of other people. But it also deprives us of opportunities to meet and get to know others in a networking setting where being friendly and polite has its advantages.

Get in Some Practice

Try it sometime. As you go about your daily routines, make an effort to meet the eyes of strangers and smile at them: a person standing in line with you or coming out of the grocery store; while you’re in a small group waiting for an elevator; joggers or people walking their dogs. Make a conscious effort to engage in this kind of contact at least once a day with someone. At the very least, it’s a mood lifter!

If you’re a wallflower, it can be beneficial to practice greetings in a networking situation such as a Chamber of Commerce card exchange, at an industry event, or simply when attending a cocktail party. Be the first to make that eye contact, say hello, and strike up a conversation with someone new while filling your plate at the salad bar or getting a drink.

On the reverse side, make it easy for people to do the same to you. Keep your eyes up and look for opportunities to smile at others or return a smile. Say hi, and if you want to talk or engage more, look for subtle, visual and vocal clues that the person may be open to further conversation (or not).

Being Busy Shouldn’t be an Excuse

As mobile technology advances and our lives get busier, I think that if we don’t make the time and effort to be polite and “in the moment” with the people around us, we’re going to lose out on something extremely important.

Let’s make it a priority this year to change that dynamic. It’s high time we re-learned those face-to-face skills and stop ignoring the potential human connections that are right in front of our eyes. Chance encounters can turn into acquaintances, friendships, jobs, business partnerships—even marriages. You never know where that initial smile and “hello” will take you. #RonR#NoLetUp!

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