Thursday, 4 November 2010

Look into my eyes!

Eyes play an important role in communication. This was underlined a couple of days ago in a role play exercise in a counselling seminar that I attended at our church.
In this role play exercise, I was asked to listen to a person talking about her problems, and to act in two specific ways while she was talking. In the first scenario, I was to give her constant and friendly eye contact, but to think about something completely different and not actually listen to what she was saying. In the second scenario, I was to avoid eye contact and look at the ceiling, at the floor or out of the window, but at the same time to listen very carefully and sympathetically to what she was saying.
The results of this exercise were interesting. The person who had been talking said that in both scenarios she didn't feel that I was really interested in what she was saying. I felt that this was a fair and reasonable comment. 
But what fascinated me was the effect that this exercise had on me. In the first scenario, when I gave her constant eye contact, I found it immensely difficult not to listen. I went through an internal distraction script in my mind ("I need to buy cheese and milk and bread and coffee, cheese and milk and ...). But it was difficult to stick to this train of thought. When I gave her eye contact, I actually wanted to listen and take her words seriously.
In the second scenario, as I looked around the room, it was incredibly difficult to concentrate on what she was saying. I tried to listen and sympathise, but looking at the ceiling and out of the window was an enormous distraction.
I conclude that eye contact is important not only for the person I am listening to, but also for me as the listener. The eyes are an important element in human language.

At the weekend I visited the zoo in Hamburg (Tierpark Hagenbeck) and took some photos showing animal "faces", including the eyes. Somehow, when we look an animal in the eyes, we seem to ascribe that animal a particular personality or emotion. What do you associate with the animals shown in this entry?

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