Hello Reader! We all want our relationships to improve but we can overlook quick adjustments. Did you know there are proven facts about one basic behavior that we often overlook, literally? It’s eye contact!
Take a look and see how you can quickly adjust the health of one key relationship. So why focus on eye contact? Eye contact creates connection both subconsciously and consciously. If we want someone to pay attention to us we ask them to “look at” us or we hope to “catch their eye”. That’s because when we are eye to eye we know we are being listened to and hopefully understood.
Eye Contact In different environments
Within a trusted and intimate relationship such as a family member or close friend, eye contact is critical. We naturally hold the gaze of those we like, admire, or love. In committed relationships such as a God-honoring marriage, spouses are encouraged to look into each other’s eyes often and for multiple seconds or even minutes at a time.
Naturally, the amount and consistency varies with personality types, culture, historical experiences, and current level of likability. In a workplace or power/authority level environment, too much eye contact is considered rude, dominating, or hostile. We avoid eye contact in public places because it helps us pretend or manage when our space is being invaded. As a general rule though, 30% to 60% of the time during a conversation – more when you are listening, less when you are speaking – should make for a comfortable productive atmosphere.[i]
Increasing the Gaze
“They sat gazing into each other’s eyes” could be a sentence that starts a romance novel but it could also be your next action step. Gazing is an activity that allows the other person to see you and begin to know what your intentions might be. If you hold gaze and increase the time with a superior you can show disagreement or challenge. If you hold gaze and increase the time with a loved one you can show openness and care.
One method for gazing is called Social Gazing– This is a triangle from the eyes to the mouth. It is non-aggressive and shows comfort. [ii] As you gaze at another person, allow your eyes to move from each eye to the mouth then to the other eye and back again.
Eye Gaze Behavior is not the only thing to rely on though. Strong gazing can mean different things, obviously, so we must rely on other facial and behavioral displays that accompany eye-gaze behavior to determine liking (relaxed smile) or dislike (constricted jaws, compressed lips). [iii]
From Facts to Action
What’s your next step with eye contact? Don’t be creepy with it, be authentic.
- Think of a relationship you want to see some improvement in. First define what would improvement look like?
- Next, what kind of relationship is this (professional, social, personal)?
- Now, what is your part?
If it’s a professional or social relationship, consider applying social gazing, and also keeping your eyes on the person as you are interacting. Darting eyes in a professional relationship can come across as disinterested or commanding as you take in your next task or consider your kingdom, so to speak.
If it’s a social relationship with a new person in the elevator or check-out line, consider a brief eye contact matched with a smile to evaluate interest in conversation.
If it’s personal and intimate, then try out the sustained gaze with a relaxed face and hold the gaze when you are listening. Remember to blink normally too.
Want to take it up a notch in a healthy relationship? Set a timer for 10-30 seconds and look into your loved ones eyes, holding the daze as you sit comfortably. This works great for marriages in any stage, for working parents with newborns when returning home, and for caretakers of elderly parents.
Eye contact does not have to elicit sexual responses, but it will increase the connection, thus allowing for improvement in the relationship.
Do you see what I’m saying? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Liz Lawrence, MA, LPC-S is counselor, coach and creative who is passionate about people. She directs the Streams Counseling Center in Austin, Texas and co-leads the non-profit Renue.Me whose mission is to invest in the dreams of leaders in underprivileged communities around the world. Connect with her at www.lizlawrencelpc.com or www.renue.me
- Photo from Pexel.com free stock photography and graphic created by author on canva.com
[iii] Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-reading People. New York, NY: Collins Living, 2008.