Let’s say you’re in the pub after work on a Friday night, having a pint or glass of Chardonnay with a workmate before you both head home for the weekend.
You want some advice from your colleague about whether you should apply for a position that’s become vacant at your company. It would mean promotion for you. Should you put your name forward? Would you be the right person for the job? Do you have enough experience? You’d really welcome your colleague’s view on this.
The problem is that when your pal starts dispensing their wisdom, their eyes are wandering all over the place. They’re looking over your shoulder, as if to check whether anyone more interesting than you is walking in through the pub door. They’re gazing up at the big screen TV as they talk about what the job entails. Their eyes alight upon you only fleetingly.
It’s not long before you start sensing that your colleague has no real interest in you, hasn’t the slightest desire to take part in this conversation and finds the whole question of your future extremely boring.
Either that, or they’ve already been tipped off that you are not going to get the job and consequently daren’t look you in the eye in case you spot their duplicity.
Either way, the wandering “eyeline”, as we TV-types call it, is the giveaway.
As with most things, this unfortunate mannerism is magnified on television. The viewer simply does not trust, or feel comfortable watching, an interviewee who won’t look at their interviewer, or directly into the camera if it’s a satellite link. Eyes that wander off to the left or right, or upwards as if in search of divine inspiration, are the eyes of someone who knows they are on dodgy ground.
In the eyes of the viewers, either the interviewee is spouting untruths and knows it, is unsure of the subject they’re talking about or just doesn’t want to be there.
Furthermore, an interviewee who is constantly gazing away from the interviewer or camera can look as though they are touching base with their press office who’s standing to one side pointing to a list of the key points their spokesperson should be making.
Let’s face it, if we really believe the words we are speaking, we reinforce our words by looking straight into the eyes of the person we are addressing. Whenever I interviewed Maggie Thatcher, she rammed her words home with a penetrating eyeline.
So, going back to the pub chat, if your colleague won’t look at you while giving the job advice, you know the job is not yours.
If an interviewee does the same thing on TV, either they don’t care about you, the viewer, or they know they are lying to you. At least, that’s the impression they create.