Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and felt like you were not connecting? Like you were talking to a wall? And what about those times when you meet someone new, and they give you the Death Stare? You know, where it feels like they’re looking right through you? Well, there’s a reason for that. And it has to do with the one thing called “eye contact.”
You see, when we talk to someone, we want to connect with them. We want them to understand us, and we want to understand them. Hence, for that communication to happen effectively, we need eye contact. It allows us to see the other person’s reaction and gauge how well we’re being understood. It also helps to build trust and rapport.
Think of it this way: Would you trust them if you were talking to someone and they weren’t making eye contact with you? Would you feel they were listening to what you had to say? Probably not. And that’s because eye contact is essential for communication.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to stare down everyone you talk to. That would be weird, and it would probably make people feel uncomfortable. But my point is that you should try to make eye contact when you’re talking to someone. It’ll make the conversation flow better and help you connect with the other person on a deeper level.
Now, you might be thinking, “Great, De Yuan. But what about those times when I just can’t make eye contact? I get nervous or tongue-tied when I’m talking to someone?”
I get it. Believe me, I’ve been there before, and sometimes I still struggle with it. We all have, and that’s OK. The important thing is that you recognize those times and try to do something about them.
I remember when I first started public speaking, I would get so nervous that I couldn’t even look at the audience. It was like my brain just wouldn’t let me focus on anything else but the hundreds of pairs of eyes staring back at me.
The same thing goes for making eye contact in conversations!
To change that, I’ve decided to spend a tremendous amount of time researching and understanding…
Why We Struggle to Make Eye Contact
As it turns out, I found two reasons why looking into other people’s eyes can be intimidating — and each can be explained by science.
Direct eye contact limits the resources available to cognitive control processes
According to researchers from Kyoto University in Japan, participants struggled with their ability to find the proper verbs while gazing at computer-generated faces.
In other words, when we’re looking into someone’s eyes, we have a more challenging time thinking of the right words to say. And that’s because our brain is trying to process two things at once — the person’s facial expressions and what we want to say.
Eye contact triggers Social Anxiety
We have specialized neurons in our brains called “foveal cells” that detect where light enters the eye (the fovea). The fovea is located at the back of your eye that contains only cone cells, allowing you to see color, shape, and detail. These cells are also responsible for detecting what direction a person is looking in — so when you make eye contact with someone, it looks like they’re staring right at you because your brain perceives their gaze as coming from that area of their face.
Now, for some people, this can be a bit overwhelming. And that’s because making eye contact is basically like being stared at.
When you add in the fact that we tend to judge ourselves more harshly than others (a phenomenon known as the “spotlight effect”), it’s no wonder that so many of us struggle with eye contact!
So, does that mean that there’s nothing we can do about improving eye contact? Well, my personal experience suggests otherwise. And that leads to my next point…
The Beauty of Eye Contact
Whether we like it or not, the truth is that eye contact plays a significant role in our daily communication for the good or worse. It can make you seem more competent, it can be creepy, it can lead to increased attraction, it can make you seem more powerful, and it can even send a message of trustworthiness and honesty.
- An example of eye contact that can make you seem more competent is during a job interview. If you make eye contact with your interviewer, it shows that you are confident and can handle the pressure.
- An example of eye contact can be creepy is if you are staring at someone for too long without talking to them. This can make the other person feel uncomfortable and think that you are weird or creepy.
- An example of where eye contact can lead to increased attraction is if you are talking to someone you are attracted to. If you make eye contact with them, it shows that you are interested in them and makes the conversation more flirty and fun.
- An example of how eye contact can make you seem more powerful is during a business meeting. If you are in charge and you make eye contact with everyone in the room, it shows that you are confident and in control.
- An example of how eye contact can send a message of trustworthiness is if you are talking to a friend about something personal. If you make eye contact with them, it shows that you trust them and are comfortable sharing your thoughts with them.
You get the idea! It’s easy to see why eye contact is such a powerful tool that can be used in all types of situations to help you in your daily communication.
Make or Break your conversations with the Power of Eye Contact
The eyes are said to be the windows to the soul, and there is a lot of truth to that. I tried an experiment recently where I would make eye contact with people for three minutes straight.
Well, let’s just say it was a bit awkward at first. But after a few minutes, something amazing happened. The other person started to open up to me, and we connected on a deeper level. When done well, making eye contact can enhance your relationships with friends, partners, family, and coworkers.
Think about it this way: when someone avoids eye contact, they’re essentially saying, “I’m not really interested in what you have to say.” But when you make eye contact, you’re saying, “I’m interested in you, and I’m listening to what you have to say.”
The next time you’re in a conversation, try making more eye contact. You’ll notice that the other person will respond more positively, and the conversation will flow more smoothly. And that’s the power of eye contact! It sounds simple, but it makes a big difference.
The more you do it, the more natural it’ll become. And eventually, you won’t even have to think about it. It’ll just happen automatically.
The one exception rule about eye contact
You may have heard that you should never break eye contact. But there is actually an exception to the rule, and that’s when the other person does not seem interested in connecting. In that case, making eye contact will only make them feel uncomfortable, and it won’t do anything to improve the communication.
For example, if you’re in a loud pub and they’re speaking to you while looking away from you, they likely want you to quiet down so they can enjoy their drink in peace. In these situations, my advice is twofold: First, don’t take it personally; second, if they seem like they might be interested in talking after all (maybe they’ve turned back towards you), then try again later when there’s less noise.
They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll be able to understand them better.
Here are a few tips that I use to cope with eye contact:
- Focus on the person’s eyebrows or forehead instead of their eyes. It sounds counterintuitive, but it actually works.
- Smile. Smiling makes you look more approachable and confident, which will make it easier for the other person to make eye contact with you.
- Break the ice with a compliment. If you start the conversation by saying something nice, it will help the other person feel more comfortable around you.
- Try to relax and breathe deeply. This will help you calm down and feel more at ease.
I’ve always been a massive proponent of eye contact. But it’s not just because I think it’s a good tool for building rapport or because it makes me feel more confident. It’s because I believe that eye contact can be an indicator of whether the other person wants to connect with us.
It shows that you are interested in what the other person has to say and listening carefully. When someone avoids eye contact, they’re essentially saying, “I’m not really interested in what you have to say.” But when you make more eye contact, you’ll notice that the other person will respond more positively, and the conversation will flow more smoothly. It’s the power of eye contact!
Do you have any tips for dealing with eye contact? Please share them in the comments below!