Have you heard the saying “the eyes are the window to a person’s soul” ?
Do you think it’s true?
Although it’s not easy to measure someones true feelings, the saying may very well have some truth to it. When someone is tired or ‘at the end of their ropes’ you can tell immediately by the look in their eyes. We sub-consciously pick up subtle ‘micro-expressions‘ that give us intuitive clues into how that person is feeling.
When it comes to ourselves, we know by reading other peoples vibes, that eye contact is important. So when we feel like hiding, escaping, not being present, or avoiding interaction, we instinctively tuck our eyes and hide our gaze.
Maintaining eye contact is a challenge for most people. Researchers believe that everyone has varying levels of comfort when it comes to making and holding eye contact.
In this article we’ll explore expert opinions, perspectives, research, and the latest science when it come to why we avoid eye contact and how to make eye contact feel easier.
Let’s Dive In.
4 Of The Most Common Reasons Why People Avoid Eye Contact.
1. Eye Contact and Avoiding Human Interaction (not in the mood)
Eye contact is a rich source of social information. And sometimes people just don’t want to share that information with the outside world, despite having to travel through it. They’re just not in the mood.
By understanding someones gaze direction or making direct eye contact we can understand where someone attention is or even make an emotional connection with someone . For these reasons, we have evolved to break eye contact with others in order to intentionally remove ourselves from a social encounters.
As an example, at some point in our lives we’ve all avoided making eye contact with someone in order to avoid them opening up a long-winder or awkward conversation. When looking at someone’s level of eye contact you can easily detect their level of engagement in a conversation or social setting.
By understanding why we avoid eye contact ourselves, it makes it easier to understand why someone else might be avoiding eye contact.
2. Eye Contact: Introversion vs. Extroversion
Introverts don’t make eye contact as much as extroverts. And that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that being introverted is a bad thing.
I’m introverted and sometimes I’d rather just spend my time reading, learning, or writing instead of talking to people. My Finance on the other hand is an extrovert, and making eye contact and talking to people is how she recharges her mental battery.
- Extroverts tend to think faster when talking and they get energized by group interactions.
- Introverts tend to think deeper, think before talking, and can only recharge and energize when alone.
These conflicting personalities reflect during social interactions and can be the difference between receiving eye contact, or not.
According to a 2019 study published by Dr. Roslan from the Centre for Intelligent Signal & Imaging Research…,
As an example, extroverts typically make good eye contact while they’re talking. They tend to be in their “sweet spot” when conversing, so it’s natural to focus their gaze and attention on the other person.
On the other hand, introverts break eye contact more often when talking. Listening is an introverts “sweet spot.”
Introverts often avoid gazes in public places, and during conversations they want to get out of… But, they don’t want to be rude so they listen politely hoping the lack of eye contact will send a non-verbal signal to the person talking to them.
3. Eye Contact and Low Self-Confidence
According to career coach Becky Berry, eye contact is such an important social cue because it projects confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness. The inverse is also true, lack of eye contact projects timidness and low self-confidence
Becky notes that looking away when talking to a person of group makes you look nervous.
A 2011 study conducted by Educational Director Heleen Vandromme found that “higher self-esteem was associated with reduced breaking of eye contact whereas lower indirect self-esteem was associated with breaking eye contact more frequently”
Why Low Self-Confidence Stops You From Making Eye Contact
Speaking from my own personal experience, when we feel insecure about our own self-doubts, looking someone else in the eye can feel very intimidating. Last year I lost my job which came with feelings of failure and insecurity. I wanted to hide, and during that time-period I never wanted to look anyone in the eye.
Insecurity is an emotional pain, which can sometimes feel worse than physical pain. When we’re feeling insecure we don’t want others to see us in pain, so we hide our gaze.
Here’s a link below to a related article you may be interested in on ways to boost self confidence –
Will Exercising Increase Your Self-Confidence? You Decide….
4. Eye Contact and Wanting to Hide Something
Sometime we avoid eye contact because we want to hide ourselves. Other-times, we hide eye contact because we want to hide something else.
According to Dr. Lillian Glass, author of The Body Language of Liars, someone who is lying might stare dead fast forward or look away at crucial moments int he conversation. Dr. Glass finds that those who are lying or hiding something commonly move their eyes around as they try to think about what to say next.
Research conducted at UCLA corroborated this, finding that “people look away briefly when lying”.
With-out even realizing it, we unconsciously hesitate to look in someone’s eyes when we’re being deceitful. Out body intuitively knows that our eyes will ‘sell us out’.
Eye contact is a non-verbal que that gives outsiders a peek into your sub-conscious mindset. And often people will tell you to look into their eyes when telling them something in an effort to get a better read on your intensions.
7 Tips To Help Make Eye Contact Easier
1. Be Authentic
When you’re not expecting eye contact and suddenly you bump into a boss, a colleague, or a friend it can be difficult to maintain eye contact, especially if you’re feeling insecure. But don’t panic and remain authentic and transparent.
Even though I’m naturally introverted and have struggled with eye contact myself, when forced into a sudden social situation I always default to asking questions as to what’s new in life, common interests, or being transparent about what’s going on in my life.
Being authentic makes eye contact a lot easier. While acting inauthentic (fake) creates an atmosphere for darting eyes.
2. Look For about 5 Seconds.
The only thing worse than making no eye contact, is making too much eye contact. You don’t want to just stare at someone, its intimidating, and socially awkward. The most effective gaze should be curious, appropriate, and balanced.
Maintaining balance when making eye contact is vital, as overdoing it often appears aggressive. You don’t want to appear creepy by holding too much eye contact.
Social Anxiety Experts say to only look for 4-5 seconds, then avert for a second or two to gather your thoughts or think about their words before re-establishing eye contact. When you break eye contact, glance to the side before resuming your gaze.
3. Break the Eye Contact Periodically
Instead of staring at someone continuously, allow your sight to wander every once in a while. prolonged eye contact can seem intense and creepy. Eye contact does not have to be continuous, just not avoided.
Taking a break from direct eye contact should seems natural. but take a break from eye contact in a way that shows the other party that you are still attentive, just reflecting on their words. For example try glancing away slightly which should feel natural. Don’t look hard ion the other direction, which will seem anxious, inattentive, and fidgety.
Better still, you can use non-verbal cues like using nodding to break a gaze. Breaking your gazes with gestures after getting uncomfortable makes it appear more natural than looking away altogether.
4. Apply the 50/70 Rule
Amy Morin, Psychology expert and chief editor from VeryWellMind, suggests using the 50/70 rule as a general guide if you’re unsure of how much eye contact you should be making.
According to the 50/70 rule, when you’re speaking to someone you should aim for making eye contact about 50% of the time. This number came from studying social cues and etiquette of authentic speakers.
However, If you’re listening to someone else speak, experts say you should be looking to make eye contact about 70% of the time.
5. Look Near The Eyes
Looking directly at the eyes can be stressful, so as an alternative, try finding a spot around the eyes to look at. If it’s easier you can try looking at the other persons eyelashes, mouth, or nose.
6. Put Down Your Phone AND Be More Present In The Moment
We’ve all seen it, and we’ve probably all done it…. Quickly pulling out your phone to look busy so you can avoid eye contact or maybe an awkward conversation. Don’t use yoru phone to block eye contact.
It’s important to understand that social media companies make money when people focus their eyes and their attention on social apps. The more of your attention and time you give to social media, the less time you’re spending with real, physical, human interactions.
So how do you stay connected with-out having your attention ‘sucked-in’? The answer is to practice being more conscious and mindful of your social media use.
The more time you spend on social media, the less time you spend in the present moment.
7. Make Changes Within
If lack of eye contact come from low self-confidence, then boosting self confidence is where you need to begin. But it’s obviously not that simple.
Elevating your own internal self-confidence is a marathon not a sprint. It takes time, effort, and patience. But increasing self-confidence is not impossible, millions of people rise above and make changes to their lives that they never expected they could.
BONUS TIP: Practice
Admittedly, it takes a little practice before you confidently maintain eye contact with anyone you speak to. The more you practice maintaining eye contact, the more confidence you’ll be able to build.
You need to practice these tips during conversations to strengthen your eye contact skills and encourage improvements.
Practicing in the mirror can help too.
Eye contact is one of those things where when you do it well it often goes unnoticed, but if you mess it up, people remember you as weak, timid, or untrustworthy.
If you can confidently look someone in the eyes and have a conversation you appear more confident, more trustworthy, and you don’t look like you have something to hide.
Today, we look at our phones during conversations, which is a pattern we hope declines as more awareness of the important of human interaction becomes known.
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