Making eye contact with your clients is a good thing — right? Not necessarily. As the U.S. continues to attract more global customers, it’s important to know when to look your client in the eye and when to look the other way.

American culture places a high value on looking people in the eye, provided you were born prior to 1965. Individuals who fail to look you in the eye can’t be trusted. On the other hand, Gen X (born 1965-1976), due to high computer use and a reliance on text messaging, almost never looks other individuals in the eye. In fact, the next time you see three or more members of Gen X together notice how they fail to make eye contact with each other. What you will probably observe is that even though they are having a conversation, they are also tracking other conversations on their cell phone.

Gen Yers face a similar challenge due to their reliance on text messaging. Even though they are highly collaborative (as opposed to Gen X who want to do it their way), they have grown up in an environment where they have had little face-to-face skill development.

While it’s important to understand that there are generational differences in terms of eye contact, it’s even more important to understand how to use the appropriate level of eye contact when working with clients from other countries.

For example, in Japan and throughout Asia, it is rude to make and hold eye contact. This is the reason that many Asians look away or down when speaking with Americans. They’re not being rude. Instead, Americans are the ones who are "rudely staring."

Surprisingly, the United Kingdom is also a "low look" society. Watching strangers is considered to be intrusive. In contrast, Southern Europe and the Middle East are "high look" cultures where looking others in the eye is expected.

What is it about eye contact that is so telling? First, your eyes are truly windows to your brain. During prenatal development, a small part of the brain tissue breaks away to become the retina, the small structure at the back of your eye that processes incoming color, movement and shape information. Your eyes also make constant micro-movements as your brain assesses the visual environment. In fact, scientists estimate that approximately 30 percent of the human brain is devoted exclusively to visual processing. …CONTINUED

In terms of real estate sales, one of the most important reasons to watch your client’s eyes is to see if they are telling you the truth or trying to hide it from you. Unless someone is a sociopath or an extremely practiced actor, their eye movements will reveal their true intention. For example, if you have ever watched a poker tournament, it’s common for at least one player to be wearing sunglasses. This helps the player conceal eye movements known as "tells." These are virtually imperceptible movements that reveal when a player has a good hand or when the player is bluffing. While Americans focus on the eyes to determine the emotion that an individual is experiencing, the Japanese focus on the mouth.

To determine when your clients are telling the truth vs. when they’re stretching it, ask them a question that requires them to describe something from their past. For example, "Of all the houses you have seen in your life, what was your favorite and what did you really like about it?" This normally requires the individual to access their visual memory. Depending upon which side of the brain is dominant, they will look either to the left or to the right. (Most people are left brain dominant, which means they will look to the left when they recall a memory.) This is their "truth telling side." On the other hand, if they are having to create an answer (What would a pink fire truck look like) or when they are lying, they will look to the opposite side.

Understanding how visual "tells" work can be an important tool when you’re working with American clients or those who come from a "high look" culture. On the other hand, staring into the eyes from someone who is from a "low look" culture could cost you the client relationship. Knowing the age of your clients and their cultural background will help you provide the perfect amount of eye contact to build trust and to gain their business.

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at


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