Our eyes tell a story. Some say that eyes are windows to the soul. They certainly play a significant role in interpersonal communications.
When talking with someone we tend to look at their eyes – and other subtle facial clues such as expression, muscle movements and changes in skin tone – to connect, to communicate key messages such as ‘it’s your turn to talk now’ or ‘I agree/disagree’, or to gauge or express an emotion, such as surprise, anger or joy.
No wonder then, when people first learn the Five-Minute Coach approach, they can be surprised and discomfited by the prospect of using very minimal eye contact. The relationship between coach and coachee is an important one. The coach - or manager - needs to build rapport, generate trust and encourage openness and often presume it necessary to maintain eye contact to do so.
Think about those really productive conversations you've had when physically alongside someone - maybe in a car, train or plane or on a walk, where it’s difficult (and when driving or walking, potentially dangerous!) to have eye-to-eye contact.
So when using the Five-Minute Coach, keeping your eyes mostly averted from your coachee’s is the best gift you can offer. Firstly, your coachee’s ability to develop their own goals or outcomes - and how they plan to achieve them - increases when they stop attending to whether you are engaged, have understood, have their full story and are hooked into finding a solution.
Secondly, you get out of their way. You’ll notice that people often look up, forwards or out into the middle distance when they think deeply. When you stop drawing someone’s attention to you with eye contact and ask them good, Clean (Five-Minute Coach) questions, their attention goes inward – allowing them to reflect, explore and develop their thinking.
Getting out of people’s way whilst gently and facilitating them to create the outcomes is the most powerful coaching you can offer. Do share your experiences of the impact of reducing eye contact has had on your coaching conversations.