“Look ’em in the eye.” This advice — whether in a western shootout, a poker game or most sports — has served competitors well. Yet, few people do it. Why?
The eyes receive and give away information. They communicate in a language we have yet to define. We know they are windows to the soul, portals into the mind and transmitters of emotions, intentions and desires. Because we don’t always control their transmissions, we fear their exposure. Shouldn’t we start to train our visual communication skills?
When you talk to your family members, do you look them in the eye? Really look at them? We learned from Marcel Proust how little we all actually see. We glance briefly, and our mind fills in the rest of the details. Whether this is an evolutionary strategy to save on neurological horsepower or just a bad habit is unknown.
In either case, we see what we expect to see. So, when our family members say that we are not listening to them, are they also saying we are not seeing them?
In sports, the eyes often betray the plans of the athlete. Which way is the opponent looking? Are they scared? Did they see the open man? Most of the time, looking a competitor in the eye provides you with information and intimidates them. Yet, few athletes actually look hard at their opponent.
Sometimes, it is a bad idea to look. If you look at a tree while skiing through the woods, you often hit the tree. It is the open space you want to see. In soccer, if you look at the goalie when shooting a penalty kick, you are far more likely to hit it directly to him.
In cycling, skiing and race car driving, the body goes where the eyes are looking. Cornering at speed and arcing smooth turns all require “looking” around the corner.
On a bicycle or motorcycle, one must “trust the rubber” and tilt the bike nearly onto its side to hold the inner line on a tight turn. Looking away from that line can cause a loss of connection with the road and a wipeout. The eyes lead the way.
In hockey, as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “I pass to the open space.” He saw where his teammates were and sent the puck to where they would be. He would look his opponent in the eyes; yet, that is not all that he saw: He saw the future by seeing where his competitors weren’t.
When was the last time you trained yourself to use peripheral vision while locking on your competitor’s eyes? We can usually see more than we think we can, mostly because we don’t think about it.
So, look. And see. Communicate tactically. And practice looking. It is a very quiet, and remarkably effective, strategy. And there is nothing digital about it that can be usurped by a device. It may be our last human skill that is fully independent of the internet. Seeing isn’t believing; it is thinking.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.