The Eyes Have It


By John R. Nocero & Jennifer L. Kennedy

It’s true. People are judgmental (And to get it out of the way – “Hello, my name is Jenn, and I’m a Judgey McJudgerson.”) The quick judgments people make are usually based on what they initially see. The pretty woman dressed to the nines has an immaculate home and must be a tremendous wife. The well-built man in your building must eat super healthy all the time and would certainly love to help move heavy furniture. The woman in the power suit ruling the board meeting with the perfect teeth, her life must be as perfectly run. How long does it take to make these judgments? About 1 second, at least according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. (Genard, 2011).

This study tested people’s reactions to faces as they flashed on a screen for a fraction of a second. Results showed that our brains automatically process a person’s facial features with the first glance we have of them, helping us to form snap judgments about them before consciously perceiving their appearance (Agencies, 2014). It’s all part of a process one researcher called the “amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness.” Further, New York University assistant professor Jonathan Freeman noted that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived.

Now, there’s not much we can do concerning our faces. Some of us were just born better looking than others (“Seriously John?” – Jenn).  But, how you use that face is another matter.  Are you paying attention to what your face is saying?  There are ways to connect – strong eye contact, a small smile, and relaxed muscles. When you are listening, or need to persuade, you need to establish and maintain a strong visual connection. It’s a solid, powerful way to demonstrate your investment in the person or audience you’re communicating with, especially when you make a point of looking more frequently at the other person when you’re speaking, since that’s when you have more of a tendency to look away.

So, whether you like it or not – the world is full of judgments.  Some happen so quickly we aren’t even aware of them and others are made quickly but consciously.  To be an effective and persuasive compliance professional you need to be able to make and understand these snap judgments. Why? In compliance, we don’t always have the luxury of time to establish relationships and build a rapport.  There are times when you will walk into a room full of strangers to make your pitch and you need to be able to read both the individuals as well as the tone of the room.  This is where your “judgment hat” serves you well.  Those snap judgments are usually good ones and should be trusted. And those people in the room?  They are judging you just as hard as you are judging them, because judgment is a two-way street.  A great compliance professional can read a room and make a snap decision to change the feel of their pitch – not the message, but the delivery (you know, the one you spent all week working on) in order to be successful. You need to be able to pivot, to make and analyze those judgments to connect with the room because you only get one chance. Acknowledge and embrace the judgment.

Realize that the eyes, and not the I’s, have it.

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Agencies (2014).  Judgments about trustworthiness are made in the first second of meeting. Retrieved April 1, 2017 from
Genard, G. (2016). Speak for Success! Body Language and First Impressions: How to Establish Instant Rapport. Retrieved April 1, 2017 from rapport?utm_campaign=Store%20Products&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=49493925&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8D7QzvCy5kKK5HTPeTI7tgw9MfjZWA24iqOrbtXNbpXyD8HA3GjZckjwtuVcxAeYt95w8obViY5-_lGXuHj7T55m2gsw&_hsmi=49493470


  1. Thanks for your posting…it helps me remember that though these first judgments are not ALWAYS right…as in 100%…they often do point us in a good direction.

    For example, a well dressed person may indeed take pride in how they look and may reflect their pride in other ways such as keeping a neat home, orderly office/desk, or neat car that doesn’t look like a rolling closet. Likewise, a person with an athletic build, very well may live a lifestyle that is healthy on some level such as adopting a good diet or following a regular exercise regime.

    Now does that mean when we see “X” it always means “Y”…of course not…but it can at least give us a good idea…which we can then validate or not as we get more info or details through our interactions.

    Too often I hear people get on a soapbox and speak down to a process or observation by citing that it isn’t perfect or by highlighting the 1 in 1,000 or even 1 in 1,000,000 when an initial observation or assumption was incorrect as somehow trying to negate the overall potential that exists.

    No problem…if I indeed only had one chance to make an assumption with no other opportunity for more info…I will gladly accept an assumption that may be 999 in 1,000 correct and accept the risk that I may be wrong 1 in 1,000.


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