Posted on: January 28, 2022
During the holiday season, I’ve spent many days reflecting on the lessons learned from my father. In a personal and professional sense, he taught me how to behave in public and set me up for success today.
The lessons from my father resonated because they were simple and straightforward. He often told me to remember the simplest rule when meeting new people: Look people in the eye and say their name. In truth, it’s the No. 1 rule in business: Treat people like people, and humanize your relationships.
Recently, my son Jamie and I had dinner with one of my first bosses in business, Warren Cook, the president of the ski resort where I worked as the communications director in my 20s. Warren asked Jamie if he remembered my late father, who was a sales engineer for Westinghouse. In that capacity, my father leveraged an unusual combination of sales and people skills. Warren said to my son: “Your grandfather was a look-you-in-the-eye kind of guy.”
I was flattered that Warren remembered my dad, who was the consummate relationship builder. That’s why he had a long and successful career in electrical equipment sales, and that’s why his lessons rubbed off so much on his impressionable daughter. My father died of Parkinson’s Disease in 2006, but I miss him every day and credit him for helping me to launch a long and fulfilling career in public relations.
When first meeting a new person, my father would shake that person’s hand, look them in the eye and tell them that he was pleased to meet them. He would also repeat their name so the other person knew that they were recognized and appreciated on a human level.
From the moment we are born, we hear our parents repeating our names and looking us in the eye. That human connection — a sign of pure love — is a stored memory in our brains that endures forever.
If you can replicate that feeling for other people in business, you will be remembered. And by repeating the other person’s name, you will store it in your own mind. Never forget that one word, a name, is the sweetest sound in the language to any human being.
Eye contact may seem self-explanatory, but there’s more to it than proper etiquette, though that is important. As the etiquette coach Myka Meier explains, different kinds of social connections are formed based on which eye you make direct contact with. To appear more likable, you should look into a person’s left eye. Lean in gently, and you’ll make that person feel like you’re talking to them in a warm kind of way. To appear more authoritative, however, you should look into a person’s right eye. Whereas the left eye conveys compassion, the right eye is associated with power. Good to know, right?
Going back to childhood, eye contact is integral to a baby’s emotional, mental and social development. It is also the best way for parents to track their baby’s development. Eye contact means that a child is taking interest in and reacting to the people around them.
Fast forward to your professional life, and eye contact remains a necessity. Remember that all business is by and between human beings, so making a powerful connection with someone else makes you more memorable in the long run. You will be the one whom people remember when they need a product or service. Being top of mind helps with attracting customers and having them come back for more. It makes your client development and retention more successful since you stand out in a crowd of competitors.
In the end, you want to be the one who gets the call when an opportunity arises. But that doesn’t happen if you’re not memorable. Think of your own life. When people look you in the eye and say your name, don’t you feel more recognized and appreciated? I sure do!
Spread the wealth. Embrace your humanity, and don’t forget my father’s simplest rule in business.
This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in December 2021.