I have been studying social skills for a long time, and one thing that I have always wondered about is the appropriate amount of eye contact to give to people during a conversation. This is an especially important question when talking to strangers, because eye contact (or lack of it) may affect their first impression of you. This brings me to my tip for today:
MINGLE TIP #30: MAKE THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF EYE CONTACT
There is no widely accepted formula for the appropriate amount of eye contact to give someone. What I do know, though, is that using the wrong amount of eye contact can be a bad idea. Too much, and you look weird and creepy. Too little, and you look like you lack confidence or have something to hide.
Here are some thoughts:
(1) When you are doing the talking, hold eye contact most of the time (like 80-90% of the time). Keeping a lot of eye contact in this situation shows confidence. I have heard some people suggest that we should give eye contact 100% of the time when talking to someone, but I think that is going to make most people uncomfortable. So look away every now and don't look like you are in some kind of trance. Most of the time, but not all, is plenty.
(2) When someone is talking to you, make half as much eye contact as when you are the one talking. This means that if you are listening to someone you should be giving eye contact a little less than 50% of the time. That may not sound like much, especially when you consider tip #24 (Give people your undivided attention). Breaking eye contact does not necessarily mean you aren't paying attention, however.
Looking away from a person does not always mean that you aren't listening. It can mean many other things as well. It may mean that you are thinking about what the other person is saying, for instance, or that the conversation is making you think deeply. These things are a positive signal to the person talking to you.
Note: Having too much eye contact when listening can also give the appearance of being too much of a try hard, which we definitely don't want!
So, practice these rules by first being aware of the amount of eye contact that you are using when you are talking to people you know. Get used to using my formula, and you will be ready for the next time you find yourself in a conversation with a stranger.
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