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Communication Tip: Maintaining Eye Contact

Eye contact is a powerful communications tool. It enables you to connect with your audience, project sincerity and openness, and keep your listener’s attention. However, maintaining eye contact can be difficult for some people (either in giving or receiving it), and there are some cultural issues to consider when using it. You also want to make sure you use eye contact correctly to project the right non-verbal message.

Here are some tips to help you in using eye contact.

Duration

Consider how long you look into someone’s eyes when you speak. Most people can only look into someone’s eyes for at most three seconds before either person glances away. This is because eye contact expresses intimacy, and as a direct glance becomes longer, the feelings become more intense. So, for a professional speech, only look directly into someone’s eyes for about a second. A longer glance might make someone uncomfortable or could be construed as inappropriate flirting.

Shyness

Because of the intimacy and openness involved eye contact, shy people often have trouble with it. (Yes, shy people do speak in public, including a number of famous performers. I’ve known people who feel comfortable speaking in front of a large, seemingly faceless crowd but become nervous when talking to individuals face-to-face.)

If you find yourself nervous about looking people directly in the eye, start small. Just give someone a brief glance or look around their eyes instead of directly into their pupils. With practice, you will become more comfortable with giving people direct eye contact, and you will find your shyness start to dissolve.

Cultural Differences

In the United States, eye contact is as basic and expected a form of non-verbal communication as the firm handshake. This is not true in other parts of the world. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, people avoid direct eye contact as a sign of respect.

Even within a country, people of different cultures use eye contact differently. African-Americans use more eye contact when talking and less when listening. People from Arab countries use prolonged eye contact to gauge trustworthiness.

Consider these cultural differences when using eye contact with your listeners.

Sources

Shake Your Shyness