Saturday, March 9, 2013

Body Language Analysis No. 2327: What is meant by "Eye Contact"? A Nonverbal Fundamental

"What does eye contact really mean?" is a question many will ask, yet too few address this crucial body language nuance. Some people stare into one eye or switch back and forth between eyes. Such staring often will alienate or scare people. If someone stares into your eyes - this usually indicates sexual attraction, predatory behavior, anger or deception. Of course to further nuance this nonverbal, you must read the other nonverbals with which this hyper-eye contact is clustered.

Take note though - for eye contact in the context of lying may also dramatically decrease. Other emotions can be signaled by lack of eye contact as well - such as disrespect, an attempt to avoid a further crescendo of anger, or shame.

During normal conversation between two people (when either anger, predation, sexual attraction or lying are NOT present) - "eye contact" should thought of as looking in a random pattern (known as saccades) within an ellipse surrounding both eyes for 40% to 70% of the time. The above image of Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion) illustrates the magic area. This is certainly NOT meant to imply that you should be looking within this region EXCEPT directly in their eyes. There are absolutely moments when you should be looking directly at one of the other person's - BUT DO NOT STARE. No one place should be fixated on for more than a second or two. Particular care should also be taken to not stare at the forehead (which will repulse) or the mouth (which will send sexual signals).

When engaged in healthy conversations such eye contact should come natural for most people. You shouldn't have to think about it. If you find yourself thinking about if your eye contact is too much or too little - then there's a reason for it - and this should draw your awareness as to why. Addressing the why your eye contact is "off" - should lead to the eye contact "righting itself". Or in medical parlance - treat the cause, not the symptom.

There is a natural movement of the eyes which occurs when people are speaking or thinking. While these movements are not the same for everyone - and are not 100% reliable - once you "norm" a person, often a lot of information can be gleaned from such momentary gaze patterns. Again, these must be viewed within the cluster of other nonverbals, verbal and paralanguage signals for accurate interpretation. 

Healthy and contextual eye contact is some of the best body language you can engage in if you want to build and maintain rapport. Many educated and otherwise successful people lose opportunities every day for want of proper eye contact.