What You Should Know About Eye Contact
How do you feel when someone doesn’t look you in the eye or make eye contact?
It’s amazing what people read into poor eye contact. Peoples’ perceptions may differ but they all have one thing in common – they’re all negative, they’re all bad.
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What does it mean when someone avoids eye contact?
Here are some of the comments I get on my confidence building courses. They tell you what people think about people with poor eye contact…
“They don’t believe in what they say”
“They don’t know what they’re talking about”
“They look shifty and untrustworthy”
“They aren’t interested in the audience”
“They look nervous”
“They look as though they lack self-confidence”
So, what’s your eye contact like? Can you keep eye contact without staring?
It’s not difficult to improve your eye contact but it does takes practice and a lot of self-discipline. There are some simple things you can do…
Have the confidence to take a moment to look the person in the eye just before you speak. You might have to force yourself to do this if you don’t feel comfortable with it. It’s a natural thing to do, there’s nothing odd about it.
Looking the person in the eye sends the message that you’re not frightened and you’re in control. It’s also a great way of commanding immediate attention if you’re speaking to a group. Take a moment to look around the audience and engage eye contact with some of them. Without even saying anything, you’ll send the message ‘I’m ready and I’m confident.’ They’ll see this and if there’s a hubbub of general conversation going on, they’ll soon stop. If possible, don’t start talking until there’s complete silence.
Then, try to look at people while you’re speaking. If it’s a small group, try to look at each person regularly. Try to find the balance; you shouldn’t hold your eye contact for too long because you’ll make the person feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, you do need to hold it for long enough to make ‘contact’.
I rarely meet people who are naturally good at this. The majority have to work hard at it to get it right. It’s worth it though because, once you’ve cracked it, you’ll see a huge difference in the way people respond to you.
Good eye contact tells the person that you’re aware, you know what you’re talking about and you care. It also sends the message that you have self-confidence. Imagine talking to someone wearing sunglasses. It’s much harder to read their feelings.
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What do you do if you find your eyes wandering?
1. Focus on the present moment
Pay attention to how you’re feeling physically. Bring yourself back to the present moment by counting the number of times the person blinks or by studying the colour of the person’s eyes. This will help you to re-focus your attention.
2. Make the person you are talking to think they are the most important person in the room
This is a simple technique. It will not only make you feel good but it will make the other person feel good too. If you find your mind or eyes wandering keep telling yourself that the person you are talking to is really ‘special’. Keep eye contact for a few seconds even after you’ve finished your conversation. This will really show that you’ve been paying attention.
3. Consciously use your eyes to show warmth in your emotion
Tense eyes can send the wrong message. Your aim is to project warmth through your eyes. Next time you’re in a conversation, if your eyes feel tense try to relax them by visualising something you feel good about. This should literally take a second but will make a huge difference to the emotion you’re conveying through your eyes.
Remember that good eye contact tells the person you’re aware, you care and you’re in control.
How to make good eye contact in group situations
This exercise should help if you need to improve your eye contact in group situations. The technique works for a group of up to 15 people.
The next time you’re at a meeting, a social gathering or you’re presenting to a group, imagine you have an invisible colleague working with you (I know this sounds daft, but bear with me here). This person is sitting in the corner of the room watching your eye contact.
The person has a chart with the name of everyone in the room listed on it. Your colleague’s job is simple: every time you look at someone while you’re speaking, he puts a tick against the person’s name to record your eye contact.
After the gathering, you sit down with your colleague to analyse the results. Ideally, they show that each person in the room has roughly the same number ticks. In other words, they show that you gave each person an equal share of your eye contact while you were talking.
There are a number of benefits to this exercise:
You don’t forget to look at people.
You give each person an equal share of your attention.
You don’t stare at one person throughout (you may have been on the receiving end of this on occasions and wondered why the person speaking continually looked at you!)
You engage everyone in the group and send a clear message that you’re interested in them.
And of course – You look confident and in control.
You can’t really use this technique for large groups of people. For larger audiences, try looking at them in small groups; segment the audience into pockets and pick one person out in each pocket as you’re speaking. This should help you to spread your focus across the whole audience so that no one feels left out.
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