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The Mystery that is Eye Contact

  • Posted on November 28, 2009 at 7:24 AM

I am taking a Career Development course and cannot help but find this week’s discuss a bit disturbing.  Perhaps it helps that I am also taking a Human Resources Management course.

The Question:  Share with the group your experience with job interviews?

One Answer:  For me, eye contact is a must.

One Response:  If I was interviewing someone and they didn’t make eye contact there is no way I would hire them.

(Exact wording has been changed, because I did not request permission to quote these students.)

The questions roil in my mind:  What is eye contact?  Why are people so convinced it’s important?  Why do people not understand their assumptions regarding why someone is not making eye contact are just that—assumptions?

Even were I not immersed in the issue of neurodiversity I would recognize these statements as acts of prejudice.  Contrary to what some are taught, our social “rules” regarding eye contact are by no means universal.  Claims have been made in this class that eye contact is a sign of respect and trustworthiness.  Yet, in some cultures, eye contact is a sign of disrespect or aggression.  Discriminating against someone because of their national origin (and the culture thereof) is against the law for most businesses with a certain number of employees.  As people concerned with autism also know, there are disabilities (as recognized by United States law) that involve lack of eye contact.  Discriminating against someone because of their disability when they are capable of performing the job is also against the law.  An employer would have to include eye contact in the job description, and be able to justify its inclusion with evidence, to properly exclude someone from employment on the basis of lack of eye contact during an interview.

Perhaps my peers do not realize this.  I have related that information, but it’s too early to see if I will get a response.  The sad reality, however, is that there are employers now who do discriminate against potential employees on the basis of lack of eye contact.  They should not do so, yet the behavior persists and seemingly few people call attention to this form of discrimination.

The questions roil around in my head.  I’ve heard answers, but they all seem so empty.