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The Power of Social Fluency

By: Annet King
Posted: June 11, 2008

When somebody mentions the word “networking,” I feel my own sleek shoulders rising like puff pastry to form the perfect Dynasty -era shoulder pads. I think I even feel the tingle of big, bad acrylic nails sprouting from my virgin cuticles. “Networking” as a term brings me back to the jewel-toned power suits and crunchy hair of the 1980s. So instead, I prefer to think of this behavior as the dynamic process of interaction—as cross-pollinating, weaving, meshing, bridge-building, bonding and spider-webbing. Whatever you call it, it’s essential for business success, and it happens more frequently and in more ways than you’ve ever imagined.

Touch with your eyes

Human communication begins with the eyes. Online dating notwithstanding, eye contact ideally is the first step in any social interaction, and it requires more skill than you initially may understand. In this hurry-up world, most people are not generous with their gaze—they’re too busy jumping from the greeting to check the computer screen, look at their watch or glance at their BlackBerry.

A deep gaze may bring out your inner shyness. Too much eye contact could be interpreted as being seductive. In other settings, such as spaghetti westerns, Clint Eastwood’s full unflinching, unblinking gaze is viewed merely as confrontational. To be sure, eye contact is potent, although its particular interpretations may vary.

“Eye contact requires more skill and more courage than you may initially understand,” says Michaela Boehm-de Wet, a multidisciplinary teacher and therapist who integrates both psychotherapeutic and hypnosis techniques into her work with clients. “We feel exposed and vulnerable. That old saying about the eyes being windows to the soul feels true when someone is looking deeply into ours. An intimate gaze is the most important step of connecting with another human being, and it is essential in social interaction such as networking.”

Whether you are meeting someone new or greeting a client at the beginning of an appointment, use as much eye contact as feels comfortable. If this is purely a social meeting, such as a coffee break during a seminar, don’t be afraid to make the opening move and meet the other person’s eyes first.