I sat up and took notice this morning when I read Ken King’s dissenting comment

below on my Less is More item yesterday about brief posts. I had been endeavouring to turn

to a positive my frustration in finding that most of my article on Eye Contact – A Sign of Ownership had

somehow disappeared and I did not have a backup copy. So in this post

today I am attempting to express again some of the ideas I had

previously covered. (And no, Ken, I don’t for a minute think that smart

readers need to have brevity all the time. Not that I take that as an

excuse to be long-winded when brevity will do.)

And I should just mention here that in the previous post I did 

acknowledge that in traditional Australian Aboriginal situations, and

no doubt in some other cultural settings, direct eye contact may be

seen as a sign of disrespect. But that’s quite different from what I’m

writing about in this post.

Anyhow, back to the chap in the electronics store who was all eye contact and

brisk can-I-help-you efficiency when I walked in and was looking

somewhere over my shoulder as he took my money and mumbled a

perfunctory ‘thanks’. I observed he obviously wasn’t the owner.


the disappeared post I had gone on to say this was a big contrast to my

experience the following day, going to the local farmers’ market. Now

this is a real farmers’ market: you don’t get to sell there unless you

are a producer, or in other words, the owner. No distributors or

agents. Some of the farmers have family members with them. You can tell

they are farming people. No flab or city smoothness here: the

weathered faces, the body shapes and the calloused hands show that

these are people more comfortable in their work clothes on the farm,

helping things grow.

So what’s different from shopping in the

mall most days? Well, these farmers and their families smile at

you coming and going. And they make eye contact coming and going and

they let you know they’ll be back a couple of weeks from now and will

look forward to seeing you. Is that because they’re just nice folks?

Well, maybe, partly. Is it because I’m the sort of person they’d like

to have lunch or a cappucino with? Maybe, but not likely. I’m not

saying their friendliness is forced – hey, these are country

people, not hard-eyed, suspicious city types – but their

attentiveness is very focused because they know that I provide the

money that enables them to buy more seed, to produce more crops, to

sell me more stuff. As farmers, they understand the growing cycle and

they understand that on the business side they have to focus on

cultivating a relationship with their customers just as when they’re

out in the paddock they have to focus on cultivating the crops.


they make eye contact, coming and going. And their spouses who are

usually selling with them do that too, and their kids who are sometimes

there pick up the clue and they do it too. Makes me feel really good

about going back.

But what if we’re not farmers? Well, for people

like me who are in home based business and do a lot of our business

over the phone or by email, it seems to me that we can work on having

‘virtual eye contact’, that is, really being focused on the customer as

we ‘sign off’, making it very clear that we appreciate their business

and look forward to seeing them back. I know I can improve on that.


for people who are business owners and have employees who don’t seem to

‘get it’ about the eye contact thing and the smiling and the ‘have a

nice day’? What can they do? Put it in a manual? Yes, but how many people really learn from a manual? Reprimand? You there!

more eye contact! more smiling!  I think not.

But how about this:

the walk a mile in my shoes approach – set up a roleplay situation

where the employee is a customer and you are serving them? Give them

the eye contact and smiling coming and going treatment and then give

them the other: smiling and eye contact can I help you sir/madam on

approach and then grunting ‘thks’ and looking for the next customer or

the clock to see how much time before ‘knock-off’, as they hand

over their money and wait for the receipt which you hand them, without

looking at them. Then ask them how they felt in each situation. Ask

them what that might say about how to deal with the people they are

serving, whether people who don’t get the eye-contact on leaving might

just feel inclined to go to the competition next time and what that

could ultimately do for the business and their job..

Obvious? To a business owner yes. Not necessarily to a

young or even older person who has never owned a business. I worked in

some top retail stores in my youth: we were taught how to push the

products, how to wrap a parcel, how to process money, how to stand up

straight and look businesslike, how to do stocktakes, but never how to

treat people so they felt right now that coming back to your store was

just about the nicest thing they could think of doing.

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