The subtle art of eye contact

  • 23 January 2015 | Daphney Mngomeni

It has been said that the eyes are the windows into a person’s soul, but how do you know when to stop looking into those eyes?

The technique of eye contact in social situations has baffled people for many years. Do you stare directly into their eyes or look away? How long do you make direct eye contact for without seeming creepy?

Getting eye contact right can be difficult, especially in a world where many cultures dictate that any eye contact or prolonged eye contact is disrespectful, as well as this digital age, where most of the time everyone’s eyes are more focused downwards on their mobile devices.

Here are a few tips to help you master – or at least get the hang of – the subtle art of eye contact.

It is respectful to maintain some level of eye contact when speaking to a person or groups of people, or listening to someone.

Eye contact is especially important whether you’re listening or speaking – when you’re speaking, eye contact is used to capture attention and when you’re listening; it’s to show genuine interest and attentiveness.

Just like body language, eye contact sends certain messages in conversations and presentations. Narrowing eyes, dilated pupils, excessive blinking, widened eyes and averted gazes all tell a story. Little or no eye contact shows disinterest, lack of engagement, nervousness or shyness, and distraction. Prolonged eye contact can be seen as domineering and usually makes people uncomfortable.

Eye contact becomes tricky in settings that are led by culture and tradition.

For example, in the Western world eye contact is polite but in African, Asian and Latin American countries, making too much eye contact or eye contact for too long is seen as disrespectful and challenging. If you do business with people from those cultures, it’s important to keep this in mind.

Good eye contact is great for business etiquette, and learning how to make better eye contact with others will increase the quality of your face-to-face interactions.