I was recently at an event, a rarity for me since I’m preferentially tucked in bed by 9:30pm. It was a crowded space with live music at just the right level for intimate chats. One thing became abundantly clear though, the lack of eye contact during conversations specifically with the men in the room, countless eyes darting left to right and back to front. Yes, admittedly there are numerous distractions around you as you navigate through small talk however there is value in maintaining eye contact with whomever you are talking to.
Maya Angelou said it best:
Eye contact is a simple yet underestimated tool that can be used to influence people.
Speaking to men in social situations, psychologists attribute FOMO (“fear of missing out”) on social opportunities as being the cause for an absence in eye contact when speaking or being spoken to. Another reason could be the conditioning through habitually looking down at our phone every few seconds.
Our curiosity of our phone has overridden our curiosity with who is physically right in front of us.
Here are a few reasons why this non verbal courtesy should be maintained:
- It says a lot about your sense of presence.
- It’s a form of respecting that person’s time.
- Everyone wants to be heard, eye contact shows you are listening.
You may ask how much eye contact is too much? Or what the general rules of eye contact in any conversation are?
- Follow the 50/70 rule – studies at Michigan State University found you should look someone in the eye 50% of the time while speaking to them, and 70% while listening. A great piece of advice is demonstrated by Dale Carnegie,
‘look at your interviewer’s eyes long enough to register what color they are before looking away.’
- Blinking. Remember to blink but don’t blink excessively. Just like that scene in Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby doesn’t know what he does with his hands when being interviewed by the press. One blink to every ten seconds sounds about right so relax and smile with your eyes.
- Show you’re listening even though you’re not looking. Nodding in agreement and looking up in deep thought reflecting on what they said are excusable techniques you can use.