Eyes: Knowledge for Managers

Outline of 50 minute keynote address or 2 hour workshop

Ethologists follow behaviours. Some study large complex behaviour patterns such as courtship. Others focus on micro-gestures such as eyebrow raises or smiles.

Managers can also learn from observing their work groups one behaviour at a time.

One set of behaviours involves the eyes. Where our eyes look, at whom and for how long, is important for human sociality. Much knowledge has been accumulated on eye behaviour, mainly attention or “gaze direction”. Eye contact can cut or caress – a dagger in dominance contests and a feather in social grooming.

The keynote/workshop reviews the ethological and social psychological research on how looking affects groups and their leaders. In so doing it covers many of the concepts discussed in previous posts on ethology and organisations.

That review includes these topics:

1)      The origins of eye contact in social relations: human eyes are special; we are hardwired to pay attention to faces; mother-baby mutual regard; leadership and the focus of attention;

2)      Who is the leader of a group, the official manager or someone else? The pattern of looking is a valuable clue;

3)      It is also important to note who is NOT looking and when they look away. Is the speaker failing to command attention? Or is the cause depression, insubordination, boredom or tiredness?

4)      Gaze direction leaks emotions which are clues to stress or harmony. Is a worker feeling anger, contempt, fear, happiness, or sadness?

5)      Where employees look when speaking with managers is a clue to their relationship with them;

6)      Eye behaviour is a clue to personality;

7)      Managers sometimes need to watch but a stare can be threatening. How to keep looking without looking daggers?

8)      Lying eyes? It helps to know when someone is lying. Gaze and other facial expressions sometimes leak deception.

9)      How much can we change how we look at people?

Learning how to observe and interpret eyes holds lessons for studying other behaviours. Being an adept observer helps managers understand their teams and themselves.

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