Looking Eye to Eye
“Just because we don’t see eye-to-eye doesn’t mean we can’t be close.”
Yesterday we talked about our somewhat strange advice to rarely look your children in the eye. The power differential between a parent and child is so pronounced that, if we ever want them to open up and share their struggles, we need to restrain from any intimidating gestures, like looking them in the eye.
Several of you had some issues/questions about this, both in direct reply to the email and on our FB page.
Some questioned whether this practice would come across as aloof or detached to our kids. Others replied that this practice goes against what their own parents always told them, namely to look people in the eye when you’re talking to them.
Couple of thoughts here:
1) We’re not suggesting disconnecting altogether from your children. In fact, we’re suggesting the exact opposite. In order to connect with someone in a hierarchical position beneath you, it is wise to set aside your obvious power and try to meet them at an equal level. This is true at work, and it’s true at home.
At work, since you’re dealing with adults who aspire to achieve, you want to invite them up to your level. So, looking your direct reports in the eye can be a measure of respect. You’ll probably need to set aside your obvious power difference in other ways, like coming out from behind your desk and sitting in a chair on the other side, alongside them, for instance.
At home, however, since you’re dealing with small children, then the best way of equalizing your levels is for you to drop down to theirs. Get on the floor with them, for instance. Do something with them that they enjoy, whether it’s shopping or listening to music or shooting baskets in the park.
2) If your parents taught you to look people in the eye when you talk to them, they were right. A child, in the obviously lower position, can gain older people’s respect by seeking to look them in the eye. I certainly tried to train my children to practice this as they grew up.
Of course, all of this is culturally contingent. In certain contexts, for instance, it is seen as presumptuous for anyone to quickly look you in the eye. In others, like when you get to visit royalty, it is simply not done, ever.
Come to think of it, perhaps that’s what I should have taught my kids: bow before me, never look me in the eye, beg for my attention, praise me at all times. Hmm…I wonder if it’s not too late…
Peace begins with pause,