Nicolle Lowrey

How to Make Eye Contact Even if It Makes You Uncomfortable

As an over-thinker, it can be difficult to determine how much eye contact is the right amount of eye contact. Should we glance away when someone is talking? Or, only when we’re talking? Where should we look? Is it better to stare into the other person’s eyes or at an imaginary target in the middle of their forehead? What should we look at when we glance away?

Wow, as an avid analyzer, that’s a lot of questions that must be answered.

Luckily, I’ve spent a lot of time considering this topic and have answers that will make even the most uncomfortable feel at ease with eye contact during conversations. Instead of becoming hyper-focused on eye contact, which can make the situation more awkward, anyone who follows these steps will be sure that they are showing proper interest without becoming creepy.

Step One: Pick a Focus Area

If I find myself feeling uncomfortable making eye contact, I select a place on the other person’s face that is close to the eyes. There are different strategies for identifying a focus area.

Some experts recommend that people who are uncomfortable with eye contact should draw an imaginary inverted triangle on the person’s face. This triangle should include both eyes, nose, and the mouth. Then, when holding a conversation, we should pick a different place to look at on the triangle. How often should we change focal points? It is best to change focal points every few seconds.

Other options for focus areas include a spot right between the eyes on the forehead, a place under one of the eyes on a cheek, or even an ear. My preferred method for picking a focus area is the inverted triangle. It feels most comfortable to me. However, how we go about picking a focus area is not as important as identifying a place on our conversational partner that will show our interested in them as a person but leave us feeling safe.

Step Two: Match Our Conversation Partner’s Eye Contact

Most people initiate the amount of eye contact that they are comfortable with holding. By considering this when beginning a conversation, we can take our partner’s lead. The other day, I was having a conversation with my supervisor about “me”. Normally, our conversations are about other people, so this topic made me uncomfortable.

Why was it uncomfortable? We were discussing my perceived importance to the organization and my personal goals. The longer we discussed the topic, the more uncomfortable I felt with the eye contact. My eyes were darting all over the place. One second, I was looking her in the eyes and the next, I was staring at the door. This awkward exchanged continued until I remembered the importance of matching the eye contact of my partner. After taking a deep breath and matching my supervisor’s eye contact, the uncomfortable feelings disappeared.

(You might also want to check out our guide on how to stop being nervous.)

Step Three: Don’t Mirror Your Partner’s Eye Contact

I know. I just recommended that we match our partner’s eye contact and now I’m saying we shouldn’t mirror the eye contact. Give me a minute to explain before you give up on the advice. While we should match the eye contact that our conversation partner is comfortable with, we can’t directly mirror the eye contact. Talk about off-putting!

Our partner will quickly discover that we are mimicking their eye contact by looking away and towards them at the “exact” same time. By doing this, your partner will either feel the exchange is making them uncomfortable or they will become offended. Instead, we should wait a few seconds before returning the eye contact of our partner and follow a similar pattern for looking away.

We don’t need to get stuck on the exact number of seconds that we should follow. It is best to try a few different variations to see which one makes you feel the most comfortable. I like to stick with three seconds. It feels the most natural to me.

Step Four: Break Eye Contact Every 3 – 10 Seconds

Staring at someone without breaking eye contact will not only keep you feeling uncomfortable about the conversation but will leave your conversation partner feeling self-conscious or anxious. I guarantee that if we stared someone in the eye for a minute, they’d be wondering what was wrong with us. Instead, it is best to catch a person’s gaze for a few seconds and then glance away. Again, it is not necessary to count the number of seconds that we are looking into someone’s eyes or follow an exact number when we look away.
What should we look at when we look away? If there is a window in the room, it is generally comfortable to glance out the window. When there isn’t a window, a good choice is to look to the side for a moment. This makes it appear that we just remembered something.

Step Five: Consider the Topic of the Conversation

Lastly, it is important that we consider the topic of the conversation when making eye contact. If the conversation is one about an emotional topic, it is typical for our conversation partner to look away from us. I know this is the case for me. When I’m discussing issues that don’t relate to me, it is easy to make eye contact. However, when I’m talking about personal problems, I feel more at ease to look away and make infrequent eye contact.

Nevertheless, that does not mean we should look away from someone who is telling us personal information. Looking away when someone is telling us something that makes them upset indicates that we don’t care about them or what they are telling us. This is the last thing that we should do.

Here is our other guide on how to make confident eye contact.

What do you think of my recommendations? Do you think they will make your conversations more comfortable? When you think back to a time you were comfortable with the amount of eye contact, were you following these steps? I look forward to hearing your comments below!

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