The Importance of Eye Contact
A much overlooked facet which contributes greatly towards a good conversation is the use of eye contact. If you’re shy, it’s quite possible you don’t make any eye contact at all. If somebody is speaking to you, suddenly your hands seem very interesting. So do your shoes, the wallpaper, and something off in the distance that only you can see.
While you might be listening intently, hanging on every word and soaking up every syllable, to the person speaking you appear to be one of three things: incredibly distracted, incredibly bored or incredibly weak. If you’re the one doing the speaking, it appears to the listener that you’d rather be anywhere else, doing anything else. Or maybe you’re just a space cadet.
This isn’t just restricted to shy people. If a well spoken person with incredibly interesting stories has eyes that follow everyone else in the room, flipping around like spastic sparrows, their interesting stories will lose impact very quickly. Another effect is that if somebody is speaking to you and they can’t make eye contact, you can’t help but think they’re lying or trying to hide something.
The flipside of this is looking very intently at somebody when they speak. This is sometimes also known as staring! If you find you make people some people uncomfortable when you speak, and you’re talking about nice things – not how much you enjoy clubbing baby seals, you might just be staring. Looking too intently can be intimidating. A conversation shouldn’t turn into a staring contest.
Eye contact instantly sends a message. A challenging stare full of hatred, a look of fear, a loving gaze, complete and utter boredom, before the first word falls out you usually have a good idea what’s coming next. Its part of our survival mechanism. In the animal kingdom the dominant male is the one who can out-stare the other animals in his pack. If the contest turns out to be a draw, battle ensues. If you stare at an animal there’s a good chance it will either attack you, or pee on the floor. We humans aren’t much different.
To break it down:
- Eye contact opens and closes communication
- Increased eye contact is associated with credibility and dominance
- Lack of contact and blinking are interpreted as submissive
- High status people are looked at, and look more while talking than listening
- Stares = hostility, threat, sexual – may proceed attack
This should give you a good idea of the importance of eye contact. Conversation is only one small aspect, it also how you are perceived as a person, in any situation. We’ll discuss how to use it to your advantage in part two.