How Much Eye Contact Is Too Much?

November 6, 2016 • Sarah Jean Gosney

How much eye contact should you make? For those of us who are socially inept, this is one of many tricky areas to navigate. Too little eye contact and you’re seen as disrespectful or uninterested, too much and you appear to be trying to bore holes through the person’s skull. Neither is good.

Now let me preface this by saying I still haven’t figured this one out, and you definitely shouldn’t be taking advice from me. That would be like asking a blind person to teach you about the color wheel. However, that doesn’t stop me from having plenty of opinions.

First let’s take stock of what we already know:

  1. Staring at your shoes is bad. Plus, they aren’t going to say anything interesting that they didn’t already tell you when you tied your laces.
  2. Shifty eyes make you look like a petty criminal.
  3. Checking your watch or phone constantly makes people think you care about them less than a game of Angry Birds. (We all know you can sustain eye contact with your screen for more than 30 seconds.)
  4. Blinking constantly makes you look epileptic.
  5. Staring is rude and makes it seem like you want to eat the person’s face flesh.

So now that we know what not to do, how do we approach the problem? For those of you who are uncomfortable making eye contact, you probably need to look longer than you think you do. It may feel like staring uninvited into the depths of someone’s soul, but that’s not how it comes off. But you’ve got to look away sometime or people start to twitch and sweat. Maybe try an 8-count and then look thoughtfully into the distance behind your conversation partner’s head. Look to the side and nod occasionally to appear as if you are taking stock of what this person is telling you.

Maybe there’s a magic ratio out there somewhere. I don’t know it, and the closest you can probably come to finding it is by covertly watching socially adept people converse. I say soldier on and keep pushing out of your comfort zone.

Just make sure you don’t look like a serial murderer.

Tags: social-skills

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