The eye is the window to the soul, or so they say. In this post I’m going to talk about why it’s so important to look people in the eyes when you talk to them, and what the eyes can say about people.
Eye contact connects us
Have you ever found that if you’re talking to someone and they don’t look at your eyes at all it can feel a bit… off/annoying/concerning/confusing? Or a vast array of other adjectives you can throw in there? You might think “are they nervous? are they distracted? are they bored?” and in a way you’d be right to think that. You see our eyes usually show where our focus is, so if the person you’re talking to isn’t looking at you, you’ll probably get the impression that some part of them isn’t interested. Indeed they may not be interested, and that’s too bad for you and in that instance you’re well within your social etiquette right to find someone who is interested in talking to you.
What does it mean if they don’t look you in the eye?
It could mean a few things, one might be boredom, another could be shame, another could be nervousness, or it could stem from a dozen different things they’re going through with their life right now. Here are some things I notice about the eyes and boredom.
Body language comes into play a bit here, the eyes play a big part in body language. Unless you’re an expert in body language (which I’m certainly not), you won’t be able to tell exactly what they’re feeling, but you’ll get a feeling of what they’re feeling. For example say someone wants to tell you something that isn’t true, that they know is a joke; their eyes will either be so overly ‘normal’ or trying to be expressionless that it’ll be obvious, or you consciously or subconsciously might pick up on the tiny wrinkles in the corner of their eyes as they talk (which the speaker is unaware of), which will give away that it’s a joke.
Other tell tale signs of boredom are showing restlessness. Their leg will jiggle which will likely show they want to leave. Their finger will pick at the skin of their thumb where it meets the fingernail, again a sign of boredom or fear or distraction, which shows they’re probably not 100% focused on you.
Needless to say it might not be you they’re not interested in, you’re not that important, it might be the situation they’re in, and even if they were talking to the most exciting person on the planet they might still be acting the same way. It could just be them.
Their content is usually a dead giveaway
If their eyes aren’t meeting yours or they’re fidgeting and they’re talking about something bad they did, or a problem they have, it’s probably not boredom when they do this. It’s simply signs of being uncomfortable in whichever life circumstance they find themselves. They could be nervous or feel a bit powerless and meeting the eyes when you feel a bit powerless is a really hard thing to do.
Why it’s important to look people in the eye
I’m really guilty of not doing this, anyone who’s spoken to me know that I rarely look into the eyes, but I’m making a big effort to change this. For me it spans way back to my childhood where I’ve felt like a bit of an outsider for a few things. That’s not to say I had a bad childhood, quite the opposite: I have amazingly loving parents and my two brothers are my best friends, we’re all still very close. But some things that I did, or happened to me, made me feel like a bit of an outsider sometimes. Through professional help I’ve come to realise this, and thus why I didn’t and still sometimes don’t look into peoples eyes when I talk.
Now that I am making this effort I’m noticing more of a connection with people, and I feel equal to them rather than this weird stupid outsider stuff. For me not looking was a submissive way of saying if I don’t look at you I can’t see you rejecting me. At least that’s what I think it is, I’m still working on it.
When you look into peoples eyes when you talk it negates all the stuff I mentioned before about nervousness, or coming across as bored or distracted. Most of all though it creates a better connection to the person you’re talking with: it’s you and them having a connected conversation or chat about whatever it is you’re chatting about.
Connection builds relationships and rapport
Yes this is obvious but when you have a connection with someone you build a better understanding of them, and they do of you. And this can only lead to positive things, even if it’s an argument with someone. Better rapport and connection makes for better communication, and how many times have things been stuffed up in your life because of bad communication? I’m betting more than once, for me it certainly has anyway. If you have a better line of communication then whatever it is you’re talking about, whether it’s a friggin joke at a party or something a bit more “conflicty”, it’ll work out better with better communication, and eye contact equals better communication.
Try it next time you feel like looking at the ground or over the shoulder of the person you’re talking to, you might be surprised where it leads and how you feel about the person or situation.
You’ve got everything to gain by trying it.