Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer
In the fine art of connecting, Brian Grazer is a master.
The Academy Award-winning producer and New York Times bestselling author attributes much of his professional and personal success to his ability to establish genuine connections with just about anyone. His secret weapon? A rare commodity these days: eye contact.
In his latest book, Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection, Grazer explains that “a major reason we are becoming so bad at forming connections is because we are losing the ability, the opportunity, and the desire to look others in the eye.”
The primary culprit of this is likely staring you in the face right now. The screens that dominate our landscape and that we so heavily rely upon to fuel our efficiency and productivity are stealing our attention. We focus on our devices rather than the people in front of us and choose to send electronic messages rather than meet face to face. And even when we do get together in person, we often look at screens more than each other.
Grazer feels eye contact is critical, calling it the “wifi of human connection. Just as wifi connects us to endless information on the internet, making eye contact opens up endless possibilities.”
But Grazer admits eye contact didn’t always come naturally to him. Growing up as an undiagnosed child with dyslexia, he found school hard. Grazer had a tough time reading and completing homework, and dreaded being called upon in class, fearful that he wouldn’t have the right answer. He found himself intentionally avoiding eye contact to slip under his teacher’s radar.
Decades later, Grazer’s behavior persisted until he learned it had unintended negative consequences. His business partner and co-founder of Imagine Entertainment, Academy award-winning director Ron Howard, shared a keen observation with him. “Do you realize you seldom look people in the eye when we’re meeting with them?” Howard asked. “Were you really listening?”
Grazer was confused. He had heard every word they said, he explained; he was just multitasking during their meeting. “Maybe,” said Howard, “but you weren’t looking at them. If you don’t look people in the eye, they don’t feel respected.”
This a-ha moment struck a chord with Grazer, who immediately remembered how awful and vulnerable it felt being at the receiving end of that sort of behavior. Since then, he’s made a conscious effort to use eye contact to establish connection. “When we lift our eyes to look at the person in front of us,” he says, “we open the door to infinite possibility.”
Here are a few reasons why you should practice making eye contact:
It helps you be a more focused, active listener.
When you stop multitasking, you’re free to look up and home in on those with you to actively listen. “People feel valued when they are listened to, which fosters feelings of trust and respect. In return, when you give someone your full, undivided attention and show them you want to hear more… they will usually give you more.”
It encourages curiosity and deeper understanding.
Maintaining eye contact and intently listening to others allows natural curiosity to lead your conversations. This is especially effective, says Grazer, in those instances where you don’t know a person well, or have limited knowledge about a topic. Asking questions will also foster a deeper understanding of and connection with the other person. “People are starving for genuine relationships, a sense of belonging, and the feeling of being known and understood,” notes Grazer.
It signals that you’re interested and present for others.
“When we look someone in the eyes, really look at them,” explains Grazer, “we are telling them I see you. We are recognizing their humanity.” This simple yet selfless act of empathy helps others feel respected and validated, and that they matter.
It reminds you to be more mindful and aware of your situation.
“If we want to have the kind of communication that leads to meaningful connections, it’s essential that we stay alert and fully focused,” notes Grazer. “For me, eye contact is key to being present. When I’m engaged with my eyes, my mind is less likely to wander.” And when you use awareness and attune to others, you can more easily pick up other external cues—Are they losing interest? Are they uncomfortable? Do we need to wrap things up?—to navigate the conversation.
It differentiates you in the best way.
Grazer suggested that for one day, put your phone away—out of sight—in every meeting, at every meal, and during any conversation. Your focus will shift to those you’re with, and you’ll immediately stand out. “In our chaotic world of perpetual busyness and distraction,” says Grazer, “eye contact just might be the ultimate differentiator.”