Bob Goldman

Bad news. After all the effort you have put into becoming the perfect "low- profile" employee, who nobody knows or notices, it turns out the people you see getting ahead are the ones you see. Period.

It's true. While hiding behind a copy of The Wall Street Journal, I came across a Sue Shellenbarger article titled, "Is the Boss Looking at You? You'd Better Hope So." According to the "Work & Family" columnist, "If the boss looks at you longer than at your co-workers, it may be a sign that your star is rising." (It may also be a sign you forgot to button your blouse or zip your fly, but why be negative?)

Citing scientific studies from Image and Vision Computing and the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, Shellenbarger reports, "High-status people receive more visual attention from their conversation partners," but "people who are seen lacking in influence, get less eye contact from influential participants in meetings."

This is not a pretty picture. While the important people are busy drinking deeply from each other's eyes, unimportant drones like thee and I are left to stare at the donut box. This is an advantage when it comes to nailing the last custard-filled crueler, but less of one when it comes to nailing a big fat promotion, or the raise that accompanies it.

If you feel you are being underscrutinized, it may be time to stop gazing at your navel and start staring at the alpha males and females in your line of sight. The best venue for a stare fest is a meeting.

"The most dominant person in a small group spends more time speaking than others," Shellenbarger notes, "and looks longer at others when speaking." Even if you do not have the floor, there is nothing to stop you from walking up to Mr. and Ms. Big, affixing your nose to their noses, and staring up a storm.

Your superiors will think either you are an especially powerful human being, trying to hypnotize them or have gone completely coo-coo. Regardless of what they think, you will get noticed.

Once you do establish eye contact, don't make the mistake of holding that laser gaze too long. Consultant Ben Decker says, "Holding eye contact for more than 10 seconds can seem aggressive, empty or unauthentic." It can also seem pretty creepy, but that could work to your advantage if in your company, creepy people always rise to the top.


Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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