For some people, making eye contact is no big deal. I’ve already confessed to loving it myself. But for others, it can feel overwhelming or intimidating, even if the person to whom they’re talking is a warm friendly person.
How about you? Do you avoid eye contact or try to do it but find yourself looking away or looking down and then feeling awkward?
And then, there’s those self-confidence courses or even courses in assertiveness where they get you to partner up with someone. They then get you to face each other and look into each other’s eyes for a couple of minutes or so, preferably without looking away.
Talk about intense.
I did this exercise when I was on a drama course last year. It wasn’t a problem for me but I could see that it was quite difficult for the person I was partnered up with. He actually did really well but struggled to stay relaxed and keep it constant like we were supposed to.
Maybe you’d prefer to run up the highest mountain without stopping than to be forced to do that type of exercise. But if you feel that you’re lack of eye contact is an issue and you want to do something about it, what can you do?
You could try the ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ approach and that certainly can work wonders but sometimes, a less pressured way practised regularly can do just as good a job.
An alternative way to practise making eye contact
What if I said you don’t need to be in the presence of another person to practice. Maybe there’s a way to get used to looking into people’s eyes without all of those heightened feelings of anxiousness.
Quantified Communications, a company specialising in communications analytics, said that “…to make an emotional connection, the ideal amount of eye contact is between 60% and 70%”.
I have no idea what percentage of time you spend looking at a person and looking away, so it wouldn’t make sense to suggest you try to up your level of contact by x percent. All that matters is that you eventually start to feel more comfortable.
So here’s my challenge for you.
Practise looking into your own eyes. Yes, really.
You might be thinking “but that’s just as bad” or “that won’t help me feel any less anxious” and if you’re thinking that, I have a question for you. How else are you going to practise if you want to improve eye contact but struggle to do it when you’re with someone?
I’ll take a guess and say that most women don’t spend time standing in front of the mirror, looking into their own eyes. Look at themselves in the mirror to put makeup on, check how they look before leaving the house or styling their hair? Yes, but not actually stopping and standing there with the sole intention of just focusing on eye contact with themselves.
It might sound a bit daft to you but at least you won’t feel as much pressure if any. Slight discomfort, perhaps.
A good way to start would be to stand a metre or so away from the mirror and gradually move closer. It’s not necessary but if you’re feeling slightly uneasy, it might help. Over time, as you get used to making eye contact with yourself, you can then practise with other people.
You might even find that you naturally start to get better at it as you practise on yourself. Give it a go and let me know how you get on.