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How to Use Eye Contact to Your Advantage ...
and When to Avoid It


One of the obvious markers of a confident person is the ability to use eye contact when it's most useful. In fact, studies have found that body language, including eye contact, makes up 55 percent of the force of any given response, which means that maintaining proper eye contact may, in fact, be more important than what you are saying!

making eye contact

When making eye contact, a good rule of thumb is to look away briefly (up or to the side) every five seconds.

Eye contact, specifically, is often said to be the most powerful route by which humans establish a communicative link. One study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences even found that from birth, human infants prefer to look at faces that engage them in a mutual gaze.

As adults, however, many of us feel uncomfortable with this completely natural mode of communication, which is unfortunate considering what eye contact can do for you:

  • Convey that you're open and honest (generally, if someone is lying they will not look you in the eye, at least during a certain part of the conversation).

  • Let someone know that you're physically attracted to them.

  • Improve your charisma

  • Help you soothe someone who's in distress. Research by Mardi Kidwell, PhD, a communications professor at the University of New Hampshire, found that law-enforcement officials often use eye contact to successfully soothe distressed or hysterical suspects or emergency workers. "When a person is sobbing or yelling, she may not interact rationally," says Kidwell. But making eye contact "is the first step to listening and obeying -- whether they know it consciously or not," she says.

  • Display your confidence, attentiveness and concern.

How to Use Eye Contact Most Effectively

There is a fine line between making positive eye contact and staring at someone to the point that they feel uncomfortable. How do you get to the happy medium?

Generally speaking, you should break eye contact every 5 seconds by looking up or to the side (not down). You can also use the "triangle method," which involves looking at one eye for about 5 seconds, then the other eye for 5 seconds, and then at the mouth.

making eye contact

From the time they are born, babies prefer to look at faces that are making eye contact.

If you're speaking to a group, be careful to spread your eye contact around the room. An easy way to do this is to look at someone different every time you start a new sentence.

When NOT to Use Eye Contact

There are several instances when making and maintaining eye contact can backfire. These include:

  1. With an aggressive person. If you are faced with someone who is angry and threatening, making eye contact will be taken as a challenge, and could provoke a fight. In less threatening arguments, however, maintaining eye contact signals that you are not backing down.

  2. In a different country. In certain regions of the world, making eye contact may be seen as aggressive or disrespectful, so make sure you find out the proper etiquette for any country you visit.

  3. With a wild or strange animal. If a dog, bear or moose approaches you that you think might attack, do not make eye contact, as this will be seen as a challenge. The exception is with mountain lions, as making eye contact can help convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.

Recommended Reading

How Hugs are Proven to Help Your Health: Have You Been Hugged Today?

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones ... But Words Can Be Even More Painful


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences July 9, 2002 August 1, 2007

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