General Question

wundayatta's avatar

How do you use eye contact in ordinary conversation?

Asked by wundayatta (58638points) August 17th, 2010

In conversation, I notice that my eyes tend to look at the person when I’m not talking, but I drift off into nowhere when I’m talking. If I try to talk and look someone in the eye at the same time, it is more difficult. If the person is someone I really have an interest in, it is more difficult to keep eye contact because I tend to be unable to think at the same time, which is embarrassing, especially when I am having a serious conversation with a beautiful graduate student.

I’m told that the rules about eye contact are different in various cultures. In some it is rude to have eye contact and in others it is rude not to have it.

What’s your experience with eye contact? How much time do you maintain eye contact with someone? Does it vary depending on who you are talking to?

What do you know about the different eye contact practices in other cultures?

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41 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I stare them down like a rabid badger.
answer me right now,!@#$%^!!

CherrySempai's avatar

Personally, I’m a big fan of eye contact. After all, “eyes are the windows to a person’s soul.” :) If someone doesn’t look me in the eye at all or very little, I feel like they aren’t interested in talking to me. When I talk, I mostly make eye contact, but in long conversations eye contact can get a little too intense if I hold it for too long. :P

Whatever makes you comfortable really, but make sure you look interested if you don’t want to make eye contact :)!

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

I tend to stare a lot at people when talking or not! I always look them in the eye, excvept if it’s some cute boy iam interested it, I always freeze like I have no brain or something!!

Seaofclouds's avatar

I was raised that you look at the person talking to you and that you look at the people you are talking to. I’ve always done that.

When I was in nursing school, we started learning about cultures that don’t feel the same way. It took some time adjusting to patients that don’t look at me when I’m talking to them because that was how I was taught you show someone you are paying attention to them. I’ve learned to deal with it over time and just realized that I need to do a little more to be sure my patients were listening and understand me (for my own comfort of knowing they got my message).

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I maintain eye contact, but I make a conscious point to break it occasionally so as not to make someone uncomfortable.

That’s all I’ve got on the subject.

CMaz's avatar

Eye contact is of utmost importance. And, can take years to accomplish properly.

Especially when boobies are involved. Or rabid badgers.

SundayKittens's avatar

Oh man, it makes me uncomfortable if I don’t know them well. I’m sure that’s some sort of insecurity. But it is important. Especially @ChazMaz‘s point.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I maintain eye contact, sometimes I feel myself drifting (my brain’s always in overdrive) but then I tell myself that it is important to be present and to look the person directly in the eye and to really hear them, instead of having a glazed over look.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
rebbel's avatar

Most of the time, in most of the conversations i have, i have no problems with where my eyes are looking: in my conversation partner’s eyes, the bridge of her/his nose (between the eyes), unfocussed at the whole face, or not directed to the other(‘s face/eyes) at all.
All this directions mix in seconds and shorter.
However, when i talk with a relative stranger or someone that i don’t feel totally comfortable with, then i experience ‘problems’ with it.
I try to avoid direct eye contact to a minimum, or, strangely enough, make eye contact too long (for my own liking too long, i am sure also for them too long).
Same goes for when i go through a period (can be hours or (parts of) days) of low self esteem.
Besides this all, i have the same distraction/attraction to someone’s eyes when we talk about the subject eye contact, just like when i close my mouth or cover it with my hand a bit when i discuss with someone dentist visits.

albert_e's avatar

One tip I have read is to avoid looking directly into the eyes of the other person, but instead look in the general direction of the other person’s face. ( Dont stare off at the ceiling or at the distant mountains :) – we once had a lecturer who would always direct his lessons tp the ceiling fans and lights in the classroom :D)

Focusing too much on their eyes may both distract your thought process as well as feel uncomfortable to the other person as well.

Blackberry's avatar

I switch back and forth from the eyes, to watching their mouth talk. Occasionally I’ll just look around their face.When I was younger and had less self-esteem, I didn’t make much eye contact. When I slowly realized how important it is, I see the same thing in other people that do not make eye contact: They seem unsure of themselves, or suspicious, or deceitful.

Austinlad's avatar

I too was taught to look at a person “in the eyes” when talking to him/her, and even though someone who does the same to me sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable, I prefer a direct gaze to constantly wandering eyes. In the workplace especially, I look at the person most of the time but, depending on the person and the nature of the conversation, not be overly rigid about it. When my eyes do wander (as they will sometimes involuntarily do when I’m thinking or nervous), I force myself to look back at the person.

shadowofdeath's avatar

generally in a casual conversation, i will drift in and out of eye contact. however if it is someone whom tries to intimidate me i stare right at the center of their brow (dunno something i read in a book, it seems to work)

MeinTeil's avatar

To manipulate by suggesting sincerity.

Cruiser's avatar

I stare them down like they are fresh Rabid Badger filets! A little garlic and lemon pepper…YUM!

Frenchfry's avatar

I heard if you don’t look them in the eye you could be lying.Well that is one way to clue you in. I always make eye contact. If they are cute well it should be no problem . Eye Candy!

OpryLeigh's avatar

I try to but I find it very very difficult at times. Like you, I find that my eyes start to wander when I talk to people and that makes me worry that they may think that I am not genuine.

brotherhume's avatar

I try to look generally at their eyes but I have a terrible involuntary reflex whenever they actually make eye contact: my eyes flicker away for a split second before I force myself to look back. I can’t exactly apologize for it so I can only hope that all my friends don’t think that I’m the Trinity Killer when they’re not around. My eye contact needs some practise.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@Cruiser -I am not afraid of you!but I am afraid of lemon pepper ;)

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I maintain fairly continuous eye contact when in a personal conversation with someone else.

When discussing highly complex subjects that require my intense concentration, I usually provide relevant visual stimuli (hand drawn diagrams, formulae, or Venn diagram etc.) for us both to look at and I occasionally check their eyes for cues of comprehension or signs that I have gone on two long.

When conversing with an attractive female, my eyes stay mainly on the face with occasional side trips to the chest or buttocks, depending on how their outfit highlights these regions. OK, I’m a guy and sex is rarely completely off my mind though I am 100% faithful to my wife.

le_inferno's avatar

I feel awkward making eye contact for very long. I usually glance at their eyes, then glance away again.

zenele's avatar

I always maintain eye contact. Except when boxing; never look your opponent in the eye.

wundayatta's avatar

I hate people who stare at me during a conversation. It isn’t natural. It doesn’t feel real. I get the impression that something is wrong with them and they have no social skills.

So I don’t buy this idea that you must maintain continuous eye contact. When you have eye contact, you are connecting with the other person and there is no way you can think about anything else but the other person. In order to think and say something at all intelligent, you have to look away to that place in the upper right corner where the thoughts are stored.

It’s a balance, I think. Or at least, that’s how I do it. I look at a person, but I also look away when I’m thinking, then I deliver the thought and look at them. Away and back. Away and back. And they do the same thing. An eye contact dance.

Too much eye contact is as bad as too little, I think. The right amount depends on the social context. I find it interesting, though, that people have to train themselves to one standard or another. Our bodies seem to have a natural default state, but in order to achieve some social norm, we try to change. Interesting.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I don’t get anything but a sense of confusion and discomfort from eye contact. But then I’m autistic.

wildpotato's avatar

I wouldn’t say that I use it at all. I guess that’s probably a result of my ADD-ness: my attention inevitably wanders in any conversation and I find myself having to make a fixed effort not only to stay in the thread of the conversation, but also to look as though I’m still with it. So I try to intentionally maintain eye contact. But then I always see this look dawn behind my interlocutor’s eyes that tells me that she knows that I’m having to make an effort to pay attention to her, and I know she knows because that deliberate rigidity of the eyes just looks so obviously fake, man. So I try to not think about my eye contact at all, lest it distract me further and up the level of fakitude.

@wundayatta I know what you mean about the upper right corner. I wonder why so many people look up there for insight.

lifeflame's avatar

@wildpotato – Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) suggest that we tend to look at the upper right corner when we are trying to visual something, upper left when we are visually recalling something. We tend to look right and left when recalling or constructing something auditory, and then down when feeling something.
Here’s a link if you are interested on NLP eye cues.

I find that as soon as I try to think too much about eye contact then it becomes awkward. I teach public speaking to kids, and often they have been trained to “maintain eye contact”. But I tell them, it’s not just about looking up every so often from your notes, it’s really about wanting to communicate something to the other person. You look at the other people to check in on how they are taking your speech and what they are responding to so you can adapt.

gondwanalon's avatar

Eye contact is something that I have never mastered as my eyes have never worked well together. I can only see well out of one eye at a time so I’ve learned to fake eye contact by looking at a point in space before or beyond the person I’m talking to. Both of my eyes look straight forward and normal looking if I look through my weak right eye but if I look through my dominant left eye my right eye tends to roll right. I’m a good faker and people don’t have a clue of my problem.

zenele's avatar

@wundayatta I hate people who stare at me during a conversation. Then you’d hate me in real life, as I tend to look people in the eye (that’s how I was raised, I guess; it’s a sign of politeness and respect.) I get the impression that something is wrong with them and they have no social skills. I won’t quote the rest of your comment, however, you have said some serious things about a wide range of people who happen to not stargaze and daydream off into the distance while holding a conversation.

Even a 5 minute conversation in the office? Even a heart-to-heart with your friend? Should one always look into the distance when speaking with someone else?

I’ll reserve judgement for now; I really disagree with you, though I am not offended, per se.

Trance24's avatar

I can not look people in the eye, its nothing against them or anything I just can’t do it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, so I end up staring at something else like their forehead or something to make it seem like I’m not being rude.

zenele's avatar

@Trance24—There was a skit once – maybe SNL – where the interviewer is looking right between the eys of the person and just above – at the forehead. The interviewee kept looking up and down trying to make eye contact and it was funny because he couldn’t finish his sentences. Course this was meant to be comedy, but nonetheless…

pathfinder's avatar

+++++++++.to hower it out

wundayatta's avatar

@zenele Do maintain constant eye contact? If so, do you have to force yourself to do it?

It just doesn’t seem natural to me. I feel like someone isn’t listening to me when they stare at my eyes all the time. It’s not connection, it’s just the semblance of a connection. Most people listen and think and do other things when having a conversation. Those things are indicated by looking away to various parts of space without focusing on it.

If they look to a place and focus on it, then I’ll look there too, because I am paying attention to their responses. Staring me in the eye (for that is what constant eye contact feels like) feels like a contrivance or worse, it makes me very uncomfortable. The only people I have known who do this are people who are mentally challenged or are people who seem to be playing a dominance game. It doesn’t matter. I try to get away as soon as possible and have as little as possible to do with such people.

I am more than a little weirded out that people think they should be staring at someone else’s face when talking to them. In fact, so much so, that I feel sure we must be talking about something different. It can’t be constant contact, can it?

And to all the people who are trying tricks—like looking between eyes or at the forehead—that doesn’t deceive anyone, I don’t think. It makes you look like you aren’t fully there. Given that you are spending so much time focusing on that spot, I suppose you aren’t fully there.

The natural thing is to look and look away and look and look away. We maintain touch, but we are not too obtrusive. We demonstrate we are listening and understanding, by using the facial muscles to depict understanding or questioning or surprise or whatever. If you are focusing on maintaining constant eye contact, I can’t imagine how you could also actually listen or show what your comprehension is by the expression on your face.

My face is very expressive—and it sometimes says things I don’t know I am saying. For example, I can not keep this expression of disgust off my face when people are talking about something that is unappetizing to me. This gets me into trouble with my inlaws and my wife. Everyone, it seems, is watching my face in fear of this expression—as if displeasing me is a fearful prospect. Very strange.

In any case, if you are looking at my eyes, you are going to miss everything else that is happening on my face. My eyes show some things, but not everything.

I do not mean to be offensive. And I’m not telling anyone they are wrong to do this. I’m just saying that if you want to communicate to me, eye staring is not going to be helpful.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I learned how to “fake” eye contact at a fairly early age to avoid appearing odd. As long as you are several feet away, a person can’t tell if you are looking at their eyes, eyebrows or forehead. Until recently I’d only been able to look one person in the eyes without feeling painfully uncomfortable; I’ve recently found a second. I’ll never be able to understand what eye contact means to a neurologically normal person or be able to interpret anything from it. Things like this and most “body language” are beyond the comprehension of most Aspies.

zenele's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Not sure if everyone knows that you have something unique and different. So in your case, it’s not exactly what daloon is talking about.

@wundayatta I think I’ve said enough, but I’ll just add this: I was taught at an early age – which means it’s a part of me, my etiquette, my upbringing – the way I do things – that one should maintain eye contact with the other person.

I hosted a radio program for several years, and loved conducting interviews – and I can’t imagine not looking at the person I am interviewing; this doesn’t have to be a crazy wide-eyed constant “stare” – but I do feel confortable looking someone in the eyes, relaxed, unforced, and I am actually always wary of those who don’t maintain eye contact – what are they hiding and why can’t they look me in the eye?

Apparently – it’s not cut and dry – and everyone is different. But for me, it seems very natural and I’d never given it a second thought til now. I won’t tomorrow, but for now it has made me think.

kruger_d's avatar

I think it’s interesting that some of the most intimate conversations happen with little or no eye contact. Laying in the dark or sitting on a park bench or on a long drive or watching your kids in the backyard. It is somehow easier to get at the truth.

wundayatta's avatar

@zenele I wonder what would have happened if I were your interviewee. If someone looks me in the eyes, then I feel obligated to return that look, with the concomitant loss in thinking ability. I’d be sitting there sputtering most of the time, I think.

It’s ironic, because I am a very good interviewer myself. As you know, I can ask interesting questions, and I do the same thing—getting people to think interesting thoughts. As a consultant, I do this on a daily basis, and people think I do a good job of it. They enjoy talking to me. In fact, it was one of those conversations that gave rise to this question.

As you say, it isn’t cut and dry. We are all different. It’s interesting to know this difference.

zenele's avatar

@wundayatta Agreed. See what @kruger_d wrote – it’s true dat – great conversations happen in the dark. Notwithstanding, I’d sense your not liking eye contact (many people don’t anyway) and do the same to make you feel at ease. I don’t have to look someone in the eye.

Besides, there’s always the I look one way you look another, just speak into your microphone way.

wundayatta's avatar

@zenele Dem waz de daze! I could speak into the microphone and just the sound of my voice would send shivers through my audience’s body.

I’m talking phone microphone, but whatever.

Trance24's avatar

@zenele Haha I believe I saw that skit actually. So far my method has not failed me. I have gotten better with making eye contact though, but still not very good lol.

Rubrica's avatar

Personally, I find making eye contact to be just as uncomfortable as you do. One tip is this; don’t make eye contact if you’re below the person in social hierarchy, e.g., teachers, elders, et cetera. Eye contact should be reserved for people with whom you are equal, unless they initiate the contact.

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