Do you ever have trouble looking people in the eyes? You’re talking to someone, and you don’t know where to look.
For some reason, you get nervous and feel weird or uncomfortable making eye contact with people, as if you’re looking into the other person’s soul, or they will see into your soul.
Maybe you get this sudden urge to turn away and look anywhere but at their eyes. Maybe you also worry that if the other person can see your eyes, they will find out how awkward you feel talking to them and realize you’re a loser.
Have you ever wondered why you feel this way? Why you have such a hard time holding eye contact?
In this article I’ll answer this question, and I’ll also give you some tips about exactly how often and how long you should look someone in the eyes for it to seem “normal.”
Why Is Looking Someone In The Eyes Important?
I’m sure you’ve heard that old saying, “It’s not what you say but how you say it that matters.”
Most of human communication is nonverbal. One study at UCLA found that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness has nothing do do with words. What really matters is your body language, vocal tonality and yes, eye contact.
Of all of these, arguably the most important is eye contact. Why? Because we form connections with people through eye contact. In fact, psychologist Arthur Aaron believed you can make anyone fall in love with you by asking them 36 personal questions and then looking them deeply in the eyes for 4 minutes.
So if you want to have real friendships and intimacy and not just shallow small talk, then you will have to start looking people in the eyes. That’s just the way humans work.
Are you human? Then you need to make eye contact, probably lots more than you do now. However, you also don’t want to creep the other person out.
How Much Eye Contact Is Normal?
Eye contact is like salt on french fries. Everyone has a different amount they like to have and it depends on the situation.
Too little salt and the fries are plain and boring. There’s no flavour. Are your conversations just plain boring because of a lack of eye contact? If you don’t look people in the eyes, then there is no real engagement between you two. The other person will feel like you’re not paying attention or you’ll seem really insecure.
However, too much of a good thing is also bad.
Too much salt and nobody will want to eat the fries either. They will spit them out right away. If you give too much eye contact, people will think it’s creepy and won’t want to be around you after their first taste.
That’s why it’s important to look people in the eyes the right amount of time, not too little and not too much.
Back when I was extremely shy and bad at making eye contact, I really wished someone would just tell me EXACTLY how long to look someone in the eyes. So here are some quick and fast rules:
- When talking, make eye contact 1/3 of the time.
- When listening, make eye contact 2/3 of the time.
- For everyday conversation, make eye contact in spurts of 3-4 seconds.
(Side note: I’ve noticed that girls talking to their girl friends usually make a lot more eye contact than guys talking to their guy friends. If you’re ever unsure about what the “right” amount of eye contact is, then observe how much eye contact the other person is giving you and match that.)
There are some situations where it’s okay to make a lot more eye contact than normal. These are situations where you are talking to someone you like, someone you’re attracted to, someone you’re flirting with.
In these situations, the more eye contact the better. Of course, you shouldn’t be staring at them like a robot 100% of the time, but it’s perfectly okay to hold eye contact for 10-15 seconds or longer on a date. Holding eye contact for a long time like this creates a good type of tension that the other person will often feel as “butterflies” or a “romantic spark.”
Please use some common sense here though. Staring down a stranger on the bus is usually bad and creepy, whether you’re a man or a woman. But making really strong eye contact while you’re having a flirty conversation or on a date is usually really good. It depends on the situation.
How Do You Overcome The Fear And Discomfort?
You know that feeling of nervousness, discomfort, awkwardness or even fear that comes up when you look someone in the eyes? How do you get rid of that?
You’re not gonna like the answer.
The answer is practice.
The scientific word for this is progressive desensitization. What does that mean?
Imagine a large staircase. You are at the bottom, and everyone who has no problem making eye contact is at the top. You want to get to the top. How do you get there?
- Jump straight up from the bottom of the staircase to the top?
- Take the steps up, one at a time?
The logical solution is to take the steps up one at a time. And this is how you’ll train yourself to be more relaxed while making more eye contact with people.
At first you might not even be able to look at someone’s eyes for 1 second. That’s okay. Look in between their eyes at their nose instead. If they aren’t too close, they won’t be able to tell the difference.
Make a conscious effort to do this every time you talk to someone, and slowly you’ll be able to look at their nose for longer and longer stretches of time.
Then you will start looking into their eyes and you’ll get used to that.
It Gets Easier, Trust Me
Yes, at first it will be hard. It will take a lot of effort in the beginning to look people in the eye. But slowly you will get better and you will freak out less the more you practice.
I used to play a game that was very useful. I tried to spot my reflection in their eyes. This made me seem very focused and attentive to the other person, and my conversations became much better. (Surprisingly! I thought this would weird people out to be honest before I tried it.)
Sooner than you can imagine, you won’t even have to think about holding eye contact anymore. Because it will be a new habit for you that you do automatically. And what used to feel uncomfortable will now feel natural.
But What If It Doesn’t Get Easier?
If you continue to feel really nervous and awkward making eye contact even when you’ve tried practicing it, then the root of your problem may be deeper. Perhaps you have some beliefs of inferiority, low self esteem or self shame that cause you to avoid intimacy and hide from connections with other people.
If this sounds like you, then you will want to solve those other issues also. Solving your inner issues, combined with the practice I talked about in this article, will give you success. How do you solve them? Check out my other articles and videos on this website, they will give you more helpful tips and pointers. I recommend you read this one first: Why Am I Shy? The 3 Surprising Reasons…