Where do you look when someone is speaking to you? Into their eyes? At their mouth? Their hands? Behind them?
We’ve all been told to look people in the eye. It’s a sign of respect. It shows you are paying attention. It connects the two of you. It is friendly, shows competence, projects honesty. It’s an essential skill that should be developed personally and encouraged and taught to our children.
But along with the skill of actually looking someone in the eye, we need to be aware of when to look someone in the eye . . . and when to avoid making eye contact.
A study published last week in Psychological Science suggests that sometimes it is better to look away – like when you are in an argument, or when you are trying to convince someone of something they are skeptical of. In those cases, eye contact can feel confrontational and manipulative, and, the study shows, you’ll be less likely to change someone’s mind if you make eye contact during those times.
In light of this news, let’s take a quick minute to review and re-evaluate some dos and don’ts of making eye contact.
Do make eye contact when you want to project confidence and competence. Job interviews are a good time to keep your head up and your eyes engaged.
Don’t look someone in the eye when you are challenging their opinions. They’ll be more resistant to change and, ironically, less likely to see things from your perspective.
Do look your friends in the eye when they are spilling their stories. Eye contact in that situation can create intimacy and forge a stronger connection. It also demonstrates sincerity and genuine concern.
Don’t make eye contact when arguing with those close to you. It can feel confrontational and elevate the tension in the emotional atmosphere. Focus on their mouth instead, or sit next to each other or at an angle rather than head-on.
Do look someone in the eye if you want to be their friend. Making eye contact can show that you are warm and honest, that you are a likeable person who is willing to open up to them.
Don’t make eye contact with people holding clipboards who stand outside your favorite grocery store waiting to pounce on people who look kind and generous. They’ll think you’re interested in changing the world along with them when what you really want to do is get your three tired, cranky children and your bags of groceries safely out of the range of public judgment before everybody melts down.
photo credit Lizzie Heiselt