Successful interviews, impactful presentations, and productive meetings – all are more effective with great eye contact. And there is much science to back this up. People seek to have better eye contact in these situations – appropriate and friendly eye contact to support positive body language and positive facial expressions.
But when is good eye contact actually disruptive? There are situations when deliberately looking away and deliberately reducing eye contact is the right thing to do.
When you are trying to access your inner thoughts and feelings, eye contact from someone else can actually be intrusive to that process. Have you ever found that you have been more open and able to understand more about yourself when you have talked whilst walking with someone, or running with someone, or playing sport? Or, when you are sat side-by-side with someone, such as in a coffee shop, your conversation, and thought process can flow more freely.
By being side-by-side, or focusing on something else – such as the ball in a sports situation – you are not distracted by the eye contact of someone else and you are more able to look inside yourself for what you truly think.
When you look someone in the eyes you see their reactions and their expressions. This constant feedback interferes with your own thinking. This interference can be immensely helpful in a situation such as a job interview when you absolutely want to understand what the interviewer is thinking of what you are saying.
But in a situation, such as a coaching session or a one-to-one on your personal development – having space from someone’s feedback through reduced eye contact can be enormously helpful – and freeing. You are free to think without the pollution of someone else’s reaction.
Perfect your eye contact today
In a situation where you are asking someone to think deeply, access memories, or relay something emotional, reduce your eye contact to reduce interfering with their thought process.
Gauge how much eye contact a person is comfortable with– which will vary according to gender, culture and preference – and mirror their level of eye contact.
If you know someone is uncomfortable with eye contact, seek to talk to them side-by-side rather than being opposite each other.
Move your eyes from looking at one of their eyes to the other eye when you need to change your gaze.
Follow a triangle with your eyes to each of their eyes, and to their lips.
Give a slightly higher level of eye contact when you speak versus when you listen.
Sarah Alexander, Director. Coach and Trainer, Vivid Communication