Eye Contact: How to Look People in the Eyes

There is something you should know about the way your eyes move when you meet someone for the first time. It’s a skill that can be difficult to master, but learning how to keep eye contact with people and make them feel comfortable will help build trust, rapport and understanding in any relationship.

Eye contact is a way to show that you are interested in what the other person has to say. Many people struggle with eye contact, but there are ways to overcome this anxiety. Read more in detail here: eye contact anxiety.

We covered the significance of eye contact in the first of this two-part series on eye contact, as well as some of the reasons why we don’t always feel comfortable looking someone in the eyes.

However, just because eye contact is a good thing and an important tool for increasing the quality of all your face-to-face interactions with people doesn’t imply that more is always better or that all eye contact is made equal. You must do it correctly—at the correct moment and in the correct manner. Today, we’ll look at how to go about doing that.

We’ll begin with a primer on how to maintain excellent eye contact in broad conversational contexts, and then go on to specific eye contact tactics. Let’s get this party started.

Eye Contact: A Guide to Making Effective Contact

Eye contact encourages more eye contact. You may be cautious to establish eye contact with others because you believe they do not want to do so with you. And, sure enough, when you first gaze at them, they look away. They’re probably averting their gaze because they’re thinking the same thing you are: you don’t want to make eye contact with them! They’re still concerned of rejection, despite the fact that you made the initial step. Most individuals, on the other hand, are only waiting for permission to engage in a mutual look. According to studies, once one person in a talking pair makes more eye contact, the other will follow suit and raise his or her own amount of eye contact.

Lioness with intense eyes drinking water eye contact.

But don’t be obnoxious. Eye contact must be welcomed and suitable in order to be successful. When eye contact is avoided, it shifts from gazing to staring, and people dislike being gazed at. Physiologic arousal is caused by eye contact, which raises prefrontal brain activity and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, causing a person’s heart rate, sweat, and respiration to rise. This occurs not just when you look someone in the eyes directly, but also when you get the impression that someone is gazing at you. This arousal may be beneficial; if you and an attractive girl are staring into one other’s eyes, it can lead to a stronger bond. However, it might seem as though a predator is hunting you in the wild when someone concentrates their eyes on you in a scary manner; it sets off your threat-o-meter.

As a result, mutuality is required for excellent eye contact. According to Michael Ellsberg, author of The Power of Eye Contact:

“One person cannot force his visual will on another in order for eye contact to feel nice; it is a shared experience.” Perhaps eyes connect for a split second at first; one partner then tests the waters and attempts a few seconds; if this is warmly received, the couple can gradually increase their eye contact until they are caught in a magnificent dance of eyes and gazes.” [italics mine]

 

If you make two tries to make eye contact with someone and they don’t respond in any way, quit up.

When you’re speaking with someone you don’t know well, lean back and make more eye contact. The extra distance between you and the recipient of your gaze balances out the increased eye contact you’re creating, making them feel more at ease and preventing the closeness level from rising too soon. When someone is talking to you about something emotional and intimate, on the other hand, lean in and keep their gaze to signal that you’re paying attention.

Switch between focusing on one eye at a time. You can’t stare at both of someone’s eyes at the same time while you’re seated close to them, and if you do, your gaze will become off-putting and laser-like. You may not realize it, but when you look someone in the eye, it’s literally only their eye; you’re looking at one of their eyeballs at a time. You generally have one eye (left or right) that you like to concentrate on, but switching your gaze from one eye to the other throughout a discussion is beneficial (it looks more natural and show more attention and interest). You don’t want to look as if you’re watching a ping-pong match if you flick your attention between their eyes too much. Naturally and smoothly.

Some individuals recommend staring at the bridge of a person’s nose since you can’t look in both of their eyes at the same time. However, people can usually tell when you’re doing it, making the strategy seem fake and even manipulative.

Chandu the magician wearing goofy hat.

Don’t go overboard. Up to a point, more eye contact is beneficial. You don’t want to stare someone down for the whole of a talk. Look away from their gaze for a beat and then return every 5 seconds, or roughly the time it takes to say a single syllable. Don’t count the seconds in your brain; instead, find a natural rhythm.

Try the “triangle approach” if you’re having trouble finding that beat at first. For a beat, look at one of the person’s eyes, then the other, then their lips, and then back to their first eye. Repeat. You should be able to ditch the planned pattern for a flow that comes naturally as you practice this strategy and gain a sense of what excellent eye contact feels like.

Vintage couple on date man looking away eye contact.

When you’re attempting to collect your thoughts, it’s OK to glance away from someone.

Also, breaking eye contact and looking away from someone when you recollect a memory, ponder something over, or gather your thoughts about what you want to say next is very natural and acceptable.

When you take a break from your stare, glance to the side rather than down. When you break someone’s gaze, looking down denotes inferior rank, embarrassment, and/or surrender. This is not the message you want to send. Break your sight horizontally instead.

 

Start small and work your way up. You can improve your eye contact in a very short amount of time. It just takes a little practice. Begin with making more eye contact with your family; you could discover that you don’t even look your own brother in the eye when you speak to him. Eventually, with your friends, and then your coworkers, enhance your eye contact. Work on establishing eye contact with salesmen and waiters as you gain confidence in keeping people’s gaze. Finally, make eye contact with strangers and new acquaintances. You’ll be a master at eye contact in no time!

Eye Contact Suggestions for a Variety of Situations

In the field of business and sales

When providing an employee constructive criticism or feedback. The talk becomes more threatening and interrogation-like when you sit directly across from someone. Instead, sit at a 45-degree angle across from the employee, with the hand you’re writing with closest to the person. This inclined stance allows you to shift your sight between the employee’s eyes and the papers in front of you more naturally.

When you’re attempting to sell something. Making eye contact with prospective customers is vital for creating trust and rapport as a salesperson, but it’s also beneficial to keep an eye out for when they initiate eye contact with you. They’ll often do this after you’ve stated something that piques their attention, so take a moment to elaborate on that point or product feature.

Vintage man waking into office looking at secretary illustration.

When you’re giving a presentation. Make direct eye contact with each and every person in the room. Make no eye contact with the president, but do with the vice president. Remember to establish eye contact with the secretary as well.

In a job interview, for example. When it comes to nonverbal influences in a job interview, eye contact is second only to dressing. According to one research, interviewers who maintained a normal or high degree of stare were more likely to employ and grade as trustworthy and appealing applicants than those who averted their eyes. So, utilizing the suggestions above, be sure you maintain strong, steady eye contact with the interviewer.

When You’re Trying to Intimidate Someone

When you talk, make more eye contact than when you listen. When speaking, those with more status make more eye contact, and when listening, they make less eye contact; this demonstrates power. Lower-status people do the reverse, which demonstrates surrender. Visual dominance is defined as a high ratio of speaking to listening eye contact.

Keep in mind that in most situations, even if you have a greater status than the person with whom you’re interacting, the best way to go is to maintain equal levels of eye contact while speaking or listening. When listening, establishing a lot of eye contact is beneficial because it makes the other person feel important, and making other people feel important is the key to being attractive and persuasive. Famously charming individuals like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were well-known for their ability to make each person they met feel as if no one else in the room mattered, and they did it by locking eyes and really listening to them.

 

However, in instances when it’s important to demonstrate that there’s a hierarchy and that you’re in charge, consider making more eye contact while speaking and less when listening.

A man wearing glasses.

Keep your eyes closed. When someone closes his eyes, communication and feedback between him and others becomes one-sided. The “eye-less” man can see what the other person is doing, but the other person is unaware of what is going on with the eye-less guy. This is why studies have shown that persons who hide their eyes seem more powerful and in control, despite the fact that this imbalance naturally causes animosity from others with whom they engage. This is why mirrored sunglasses may be threatening, why individuals who wear sunglasses inside irritate others, and why Darth Vader is so terrifying.

Look them in the eyes. When you can’t or don’t want to conceal your eyes but still want to frighten someone, all you have to do is stare them down and don’t be the one to look away first. The individual who holds his stare communicates authority and greater rank, while the person who looks away first communicates surrender. Maintaining your stare conveys confidence, which may assist psyche out an opponent or persuade the man at the bar who wants to fight you to back off.

The stare-down is a skill that MMA fighters have mastered:

 

Meeting a Stranger on the Street’s Eyes

First and foremost, why would you want to do this in the first place? Establishing eye contact with strangers you pass on the street, according to Michael Ellsberg, is not only good practice for making eye contact with people you really know and may lead to more dates, but it can also “change the urban landscape:”

“Before I began practicing this, I used to wander around the city and see the other individuals I came across as barriers or annoyances. But once I began doing it—after I started seeing into the hearts of hundreds of individuals every day—the whole scenario changed. I instantly noticed a lot of beauty and a lot of misery in the world. So many weighty responsibilities, so much delight… All because of one small alteration, the city became a symphony of feeling.”

There are a few aspects to effectively initiating short eye contact with strangers on the street, according to Ellsberg, and they all center on the idea that you don’t want to make others feel intimidated by your eye contact. To begin, he suggests maintaining a neutral facial expression and a gentle gaze—the eye and face muscles should be relaxed–no laser-eyes. Second, establish eye contact with someone when you’re approximately 4-5 steps away from crossing paths; you don’t want to begin eye contact with someone from too far away. Finally, merely glance into their eyes for a few seconds—about one pace or just long enough to see their eye color.

When conversing with other men

 

Vintage men in fishing boat smoking pipes near dock.

As previously stated, eye contact causes physical and psychological arousal in the receiver, boosting activity in the prefrontal cortex and speeding up respiration and pulse rate. A high-stakes discussion might seem overly aggressive for guys because of this physiological reaction. So, if you want to chat to another guy about anything significant, do it together—go for a drive, a stroll, or go fishing.

When it comes to wooing women, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Eye contact is one of the most effective techniques to attract women and is good at all stages of a relationship:

The Very First Meeting

Making direct eye contact with a lady. While you may believe that your degree of attractiveness is fixed, studies have shown that factors such as your facial expression and, yes, whether or not you’re staring in their direction, may impact how beautiful you seem to others. Simply seeing a lady in the eyes while smiling increases your attractiveness to her. Direct eye contact, a relaxed face (don’t indicate tension, particularly in your jaw), and an easy grin are the most beautiful features to display a lady.

Don’t be the first to turn away if a lady looks you in the eyes. Remember that the one who retains the stare for the longest demonstrates authority; you’re not attempting to express your dominance here—holding your gaze merely conveys your confidence, which ladies find appealing.

Trying to figure out what she’s saying with her eyes. Whether she’s interested in you or not, when you glance across at a lady, she’ll generally look away. However, the manner she averts her look reveals a lot about whether or not she wants you to approach her:

  • If she glances down for fewer than 45 seconds and then looks back at you, she is almost certainly intrigued. You don’t need any slick pick-up lines when you approach her since this sign is practically fail-proof—just extend your hand and introduce yourself.
  • She’s not sure whether she’s interested in you yet if she glances away horizontally. To watch how she responds, smile and establish eye contact once again.
  • If she looks up and averts her sight, she isn’t interested. She basically rolled her eyes at you.

Following Your Meeting

Don’t give up on the eye contact after you’ve attracted a lady’s attention and begun chatting to her, since it will continue to pay off. Eye contact promotes personal ties, which is beneficial if you’re attempting to win over a lady, as we discussed in a recent post.

Strangers were taken into a lab and paired up into opposite sex pairs in a research done by Dr. Arthur Aron. After looking into each other’s eyes for two minutes straight, newly formed couples reported emotions of attraction, affection, and even love for their partners. One of the couples eventually married.

When You’ve Been Together for a Long Time

 

Vintage couple Audrey Hepburn looking each other in eye.

As a result, eye contact may assist to start a connection and subsequently develop it. It may also help to keep long-term sentiments of love alive. According to studies, couples who love each other the most create the greatest eye contact and maintain reciprocal gazes for longer periods of time. Now, correlation isn’t causation—does glancing at each other more frequently keep you in love, or does it simply make you want to gaze at each other more? Probably more of the latter, but it can’t hurt to attempt to “see” (in the Avatar meaning, of course) your spouse more often. Make some googoo eyes for supper now and again.

When Making a Presentation

Winston Churchill giving speech glasses suit microphones.

Eye contact with the audience makes a speaker seem more trustworthy, knowledgeable, and confident. Eye contact also helps you develop a stronger feeling of intimacy with your audience, which leads to the creation of ethos, which makes your message more persuasive. Someone who looks at their notes all the time seems uneasy (do they have anything to hide?). Isn’t it possible that they aren’t prepared enough?) and is so more likely to be ignored.

When speaking to a big group, it’s impossible to establish eye contact with everyone in the room. Some individuals will encourage you to fake it by peering over everyone’s shoulders, but such tactic will not persuade anybody. You shouldn’t also do the head bobber thing, when you glance at your notes for a second, then fast at the audience, then back to your notes… Finally, don’t “spray” your eyes around the audience as if it were an aerosol can. Instead, you should establish direct eye contact with specific audience members.

To be able to accomplish this, you must first attempt to remember your speech in its whole, and if you are unable to do so, make an outline with just your important points, so that you only need to glance down a few times to find your way.

You may make eye contact with people in the audience in a number different ways now that your eyes are free to travel throughout the room, depending on the size of the crowd:

There should be no more than 30 persons. When speaking to a small group, such as around a conference table, don’t keep sweeping your glance around the table clockwise or counterclockwise, pausing to make a few seconds of eye contact with each individual before sweeping around again. People will start to look forward to and dread their “turn.” Always be staring at someone, but change who you’re looking at during your presentation.

30 or more persons are required. Try the triangle technique, which is similar to the above-mentioned triangle approach for face-to-face encounters but with full people replacing the individual’s eyes and mouth. Consider an unseen triangle perched above the audience. You establish eye contact with someone on the triangle’s right side point, then the top point, and finally the left point. Then do it again. You reverse the triangle from time to time to keep things interesting and prevent your pattern from becoming predictable.

 

75-300 individuals are expected to attend. Divide the audience into five imaginary groups, then transfer your gaze from group to group, making eye contact with a different individual inside each group each time.

There were almost 300 persons in attendance. If there is a huge audience, make eye contact with folks in the first few rows while sometimes gazing out into the crowd.

The key to any of these strategies is to transfer your attention from person to person as naturally as possible. You don’t want it to seem jerky, do you? “You’re here!” Feel the pressure on my eyes! Now it’s your turn! Now it’s your turn!”

Finally, regardless of the size of the audience, here are three last recommendations for speeches:

Make eye contact to start the conversation. Take a few moments to smile and establish eye contact with people as you arrive to the podium or the front of the room before you begin speaking. This puts you on the right foot from the outset.

Keep your gaze away from the Powerpoint presentations. To begin, follow Alex Hunter’s advise and make your presentations as basic and clear as possible. Second, you should be very comfortable with what’s on each slide so you don’t have to constantly glancing at them and boring them out of their minds by reading them to them.

Examine both friendly and antagonistic expressions. Make eye contact with everyone, not just the friendly faces in the throng. Take a look at the furious and bored expressions as well. Making eye contact with them may help them to be more receptive to your message. To maintain your excitement from waning, glance at individuals who are grinning up at you after gazing at a hostile face for a while.

At the conclusion of your speech, remember to establish eye contact with the audience. It’s easy to get caught up in the hurry to get to the conclusion, but the crescendo is when you truly want to make an impression. As you go closer, be sure to look them in the eyes to properly get your point over.

Note that the concepts in this series are aimed at males in Western nations. The significance of eye contact and how to achieve it varies by culture.

Listen to my podcast on the value of face-to-face communication:

 

Sources:

Michael Ellsberg’s The Power of Eye Contact: Your Secret to Success in Business, Love, and Life Mark L. Knapp and Gerald R. Miller’s Handbook of Interpersonal Communication Timothy Perper’s book Sex Signals: The Biology of Love is about the biology of love. Cheryl Murphy’s “Learning the Look of Love” C. David Mortensen’s Communication Theory

 

 

Previous Previous post:

Eye contact is one of the most important parts of a human connection. It’s what people do when they look each other in the eyes, and it can be used to express love and attraction. The article will discuss how to make eye contact with someone you’re attracted to, as well as some signals that might indicate that you’re not interested. Reference: eye contact love signals.

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