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Nonverbal Communication: The Power of Eye Contact and Facial Expressions

Updated: Feb 5




By Jim Graden

"Are you okay? Are you mad or something?" This was a common inquiry I received in my late teens and early twenties. You see, I was only 16 when I first entered the adult Black Belt division in martial arts tournaments during the seventies. At 17 (Everyone thought I was older), I stepped into my first kickboxing match broadcasted on ESPN, and at 19, I was opening of my first martial arts school.

I had inadvertently adopted a perpetual sneer, even when I was simply standing still and feeling perfectly content. Constantly portraying the alpha male persona had etched a permanent perturbed expression onto my face.

In the late seventies and early eighties, the martial arts scene revolved around aspiring Bruce Lees, attracting predominantly insecure young men seeking combat prowess. So, playing the tough guy role brought new students.

However, with the advent of the movie "The Karate Kid," the landscape of the industry transformed drastically. It shifted from catering to insecure adult males to appeasing parents, particularly mothers, seeking mentors like Mr. Miyagi to instill confidence and discipline in their children. I knew I had to adapt or risk obsolescence in my martial arts career. The dynamics of teaching a young male about self-defense differed vastly from addressing a parent regarding their child's insecurities and lack of discipline.

I recognized the need to alter my image and communicate my potential as a positive role model for their children. This realization prompted me to delve into the realm of verbal and nonverbal communication. I began reading a lot and came across Brian Tracy's "The Psychology of Success". This book really struck a chord with me, particularly his assertion that influencing others was a skill attainable by anyone. One technique that resonated with me was mirroring, where one mimics the behavior of the person they aim to influence. It's rooted in the age-old adage: "people like people who are like them."

I underwent a complete transformation. I made a conscious effort never to sport a frown and always greeted others with a smile, maintaining eye contact as I extended my hand in a friendly handshake.

Through my experiences, I've discovered that the most potent means of conveying friendship and positive intent are through eye contact and a warm smile. It's something we all can strive to improve upon. Consider this: when you smile at someone while meeting their gaze, what's typically returned? Often, it's a reciprocal smile and attentive eye contact. I grasped this concept long ago, yet I continue to be amazed by its disarming effect and its efficacy in forging new connections.

Mastering the art of being likable is a valuable skill. You might think, "I don't need to work on it; I'm already likable." However, enhancing your ability to connect with others through eye contact and facial expressions can significantly elevate your interpersonal interactions. It's a potent way to acknowledge someone's presence and establish a meaningful connection from the outset.

# Just remember “you never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression”. So, create the habit, even if you are in the service industry, and who isn’t, taking the few seconds to smile and make eye contact with everyone you meet. Even if you are having to apologize while doing it.


Jim Graden is a former World Kickboxing Heavyweight Champion and 7th degree Master Martial Artist under the Legendary Joe Lewis.

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