How many times have you had to give a presentation to a group and make sure you make eye contact with everyone in the room? Or how about connecting with a coworker or supervisor virtually or in person and needing to give your undivided attention? Have you been in a meeting with one other person and have had no idea where to look? You’re not alone. Eye contact can be awkward, but it’s necessary as a form of communication that has a powerful effect on how others react to you and what they think about you.
Eye contact is a form of body language that can convey things about who you are and how you view the person or people you are talking to. “When thinking about eye contact in the workplace, I think about it as nonverbal communication. It is a way to connect and express yourself. It is important because people want to be perceived as trustworthy and interested in what is said,” explains Tameka Wade Brewington, MS, LCMHC, CCS, NCC, CCMHC.
How much eye contact should you use?
Eye contact can make or break an interaction, but more importantly, it can help you foster meaningful relationships and improve your confidence among your peers and management team. “People with good eye contact are seen as confident and as active listeners,” Wade Brewington says. “It lets the person know you are following the conversation.”
But how much eye contact is too much? Quantified Communications told CNBC that optimum eye contact should be somewhere in the 60 percent to 70 percent range, making more eye contact than feels natural. According to the communication skills platform, adults make between 30 percent to 60 percent of eye contact in an average conversation. Wade Brewington says when you use it will determine how much to use: “A good rule of thumb to gauge eye contact is to use it 50 percent of the time you are talking and 70 percent of the time when you are listening.”
When to maintain eye contact
It can be difficult to maintain eye contact when sitting in a meeting, but it’s important to stay present and not let your eyes wander. Eye contact shows you are interested in what’s going on. “You should use eye contact when you want to convey respect to someone,” Wade Brewington says. “It is important to use eye contact when you have a serious matter to discuss or when you want to assure the speaker that you understand. When you are presenting things, making eye contact is a way to show confidence.”
While it won’t be as intimate as a one-on-one with a colleague, you should still make it a point to scan the room and stop on a couple of faces to make that eye connection for a few seconds because it can help people who are listening feel seen and important. In another study, participants with higher self-esteem were found to break eye contact less frequently whereas those with lower self-esteem broke eye contact more often. The study found that there is an association between confidence in one’s own worth and the ability to hold eye contact. Clearly, making the right amount of eye contact is a win-win for everyone involved.
How to improve your eye contact
Developing strong eye contact in the workplace can put you miles ahead of the competition if you are interviewing for a job, and it can give you an advantage in your day-to-day interactions.
Here are some tips to increase eye contact in the workplace without, well, making it weird:
1. Open with eye contact
Engaging in conversation is already nerve-wracking enough, but before starting the conversation, look the person in the eye to make contact before speaking. Wade Brewington says this can reduce the pressure of maintaining eye contact throughout the conversation.
2. Engage in eye contact for short periods of time
If you are working up the nerve to get over eye contact anxiety, Wade Brewington suggests maintaining eye contact for 4 to 5 seconds to build up your eye contact stamina. Hold it for that time, then glance away before establishing eye contact again. Holding eye contact constantly can come off as staring and creepy.
3. Look away slowly
Making eye contact and wanting to look away quickly is understandable, but Wade Brewington says it’s important to look away slowly. “It appears less obvious, and you won’t be perceived as having shifty or darting eyes.”
4. Use the 50/70 rule
To keep from staring, Wade Brewington suggests keeping eye contact 50 percent of the time that you are speaking and 70 percent of the time when you are listening.
5. Apply the triangle technique
“The triangle technique is where you look at the person’s face as an inverted triangle and look at other parts of the face as well as the eye for 5 seconds at a time,” says Wade Brewington. This will help your eye contact come off as natural.
6. Break the gaze
To, again, avoid staring and making the other person uncomfortable, break the gaze by making a gesture or nodding your head. It’s important to demonstrate positive body language signs to indicate you are listening and engaged in the conversation or presentation. Nodding and smiling or even making comments in response to the person speaking also allows you to contribute to the conversation. Make sure you direct your gaze appropriately so that you are still giving off an air of confidence. Looking down shows insecurity and that you may not be interested, while looking up for a few seconds indicates your interest in the conversation.
7. Don’t stare to show you care
There’s a difference between showing you are engaged in the conversation and making someone feel intimidated. Engaging in eye contact with someone for an abnormal amount of time can cause someone to feel just as uneasy as you may feel making eye contact. It’s okay to break it up by changing where your eyes are focused, taking notes, or smiling to make the other person feel more comfortable.
Improving your eye contact skills may take some time. Practice on friends and family first, and when you feel more comfortable, start using it in the workplace to create a lasting impression.
About our source
Tameka Wade Brewington is a dually licensed psychotherapist in the State of North Carolina. She has been working in mental health and substance abuse for the past 20 years. Her primary areas of interest include women’s issues, working professionals, and adolescents, with specialization in substance abuse, and trauma. Her title credentials are Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist, Clinical Supervising Intern, Nationally Certified Counselor, and Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor.