The Right Way to Make Eye Contact
Here’s looking at you, kid.
Eye contact is a lot like perfume: When it’s good, you probably don’t pay much attention to it. But when it’s bad? It’s distracting, off-putting, and occasionally makes you want to sprint to the nearest exit. Here are four do’s and don’ts for making appropriate eye contact, whether you’re shooting the breeze with your neighbor or talking shop with your boss.
Do Check Out Eye Color
When first establishing eye contact, meet the other person’s gaze long enough to mentally make note of their eye color, suggests Dale Carnegie, the public-speaking pro best known for his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The time it takes to register if you’re dealing with Ol’ Blue Eyes or a brown-eyed girl is a natural amount of time to establish eye contact before breaking it.
Don’t Look Down
In order to keep the amount of eye contact comfortable, it’s good to look away every so often, so as not to smolder your listeners with an intense gaze. But be careful where you look: Shifting your eyes downward can be seen as a lack of self-assurance or a bout of nerves. Instead, look to the side, as this often happens naturally when you’re thinking about or remembering something.
Do Maintain Eye Contact When Listening
In order to present yourself as a good conversationalist and listener, try the 50/70 rule, which we learned about from a Michigan State University Extension educator. While you’re talking, try to maintain eye contact about 50 percent of the time. When you’re listening, that number goes up to about 70 percent.
Don’t Lock It In
Fun fact: You can’t look at both of someone’s eyes at the same time. (I subjected my neighboring editor to a quick test to confirm, and what do you know? It’s true.) If you try to look at both eyes simultaneously, you’ll likely end up dry-eyed or resembling an unblinking robot. Instead, choose one eye to look at first, then switch back and forth between the two throughout the conversation. Don’t change it up too frequently, though, as that could make you look distracted or even deceitful.
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