Eye contact: The most important communication tool
Is your eye contact aggressive, is it soft, is it inviting, do you love with your eyes? Eye contact is a very tricky art to master but vital to effective communication. How can you make it better?
Eye contact provides social information to the person you are listening to and talking to. Too much eye contact and you could be seen as aggressive, too little eye contact and you can be seen as having no interest in the person speaking. It is an often overlooked skill to have and an under utilised skill when communicating with people. You can see masters of eye contact in great sales persons, politicians, and good public speakers.
I realised the importance of eye contact when I was counseling people face to face. I noticed when I broke eye contact the person would stop speaking. When I maintained eye contact the person would continue talking knowing that I was interested in what they had to say.
Physiological signs of eye contact
Street traders know the importance of the eyes when using their selling skills to keep their potential buyers interested. When you are aroused or interested in an object your pupils will dilate and this is a big cue for salesmen all over the world.
Also when you are interested in someone sexually your pupils will dilate and you hold the person’s gaze a little longer than normal. When I was single I always knew when a girl was interested in me through her eyes, now that I am married if I get the same signs I discourage eye contact.
Every day conversation and eye contact
We will use eye contact every day of our lives so it makes sense to learn the best ways to use your eyes to your advantage.
Certain situations demand different uses of the eyes. For example if your are arguing it is seen as strong if you can hold your gaze. If you are deferring to someone it is better to lower your eyes, if you are loving someone it is good to stare into the pool of the eyes.
6 Ways to improve your eye contact skills
- Talking to a group – When talking to a group of people it is great to have direct contact with your listeners. Don’t make the mistake of maintaining eye contact with just one person as this will stop the other members of the group from listening. To get past this, focus on a different member of the group with every new sentence. This way you are talking to all of the group and keeping them all interested.
- Talking to an individual – It is great to maintain eye contact when talking to a person however it can become a bit creepy and uncomfortable if you stare intensely at them. To combat this, break eye contact every 5 seconds or so. When breaking the eye contact don’t look down as this might indicate the ending of your part of the conversation. Instead, look up or to the side as if your are remembering something. Try it just now: don’t move your head, and think about the first time you started school. You will notice your eyes might move up or to the side as you try to remember this. So when your listener sees this they will think you are trying to remember something and keep on listening to you.
- Listening to someone – When you are listening to someone it can be off putting for the talker if you stare at them too hard. The technique I use when I am counseling someone is to use what I call ‘The triangle’. This is when I look at one eye for about 5 seconds, look at the other eye for 5 seconds and then look at the mouth for 5 seconds and keep on rotating in this way. This technique coupled with other listening skills such as nodding, occasional agreement words such as ‘yes’, ‘Uh –huh’ ‘mm’ etc is a great way to keep the talker talking and to show them you are interested in what they are saying.
- Arguing – Arguing with someone is a skill in itself and if you want to compete in an argument holding the gaze shows strength. If you look away when arguing with someone you have all but lost the argument. Obviously this depends on who you are arguing with but in general it is better to hold the gaze whilst you are making your point and also when you are listening to the other person. We have all come across the person who is great at arguing and making you feel small, you will notice that everyone who is like this try to stare you out. Stare back, it will surprise them, piss them off and put them off what they are trying to say. Staying silent and staring at someone who is trying to rile you is also an effective way to win an argument without saying a word.
- Attracting someone – When you are trying to attract someone and show them you are interested you can talk and listen with your eyes. When a person you like is speaking use the whole face as your focal point. Look at their eyes, listen to what they are saying, smile in the appropriate places, raise your eyebrows in the appropriate places. If you feel you are staring at them move to their other features such as their lips, their cheeks, their nose and then back to their eyes. Smiling when listening to someone is a great way to show you are interested in them, obviously don’t smile when they have just told you their pet died last night. You have to listen with your ears as well as listening with your eyes (yes I did mean listening with your eyes, you listen to someone’s body language with your eyes).
- Loving someone – My wife and I often share a prolonged gaze into each others eyes and it is a very special thing to just stare without talking. My wife’s pupils will dilate and she can my pupils dilating. It creates a strong bond between us. To make your pupils dilate even more you can try this: as you are staring at your partner imagine yourself going inside their body and your two souls making love. You are trying to touch their very soul. This will release adrenalin and make your pupils dilate even more.