For some, eye contact can be a strange thing. It can be intimidating, or it can feel very intimate, considering the general wisdom that eyes are a “window to the soul”. Eye contact is an important type of nonverbal communication which many believe can show mood and intention, and it is an important aspect of conversation and gauging the responses of those you are conversing with.
Considering your eye contact technique before a networking event can be a great way to help yourself have one less thing to worry about when you arrive. Understanding eye contact can not only help you to better interact with people, but it can also help you to read other people’s reactions to you and those around you.
The “Right Way” to Engage in Eye Contact
If you have ever wondered “what am I supposed to do with my eyes when I’m talking to someone?” then this is the section for you!
First off, relax! If you come at someone with an intense stare or darting and nervous eyes then you will only distract and unnerve them while harming your chances of a great networking connection. Many people may read your nerves as a sign that you are untrustworthy, so do your best to feel confident and self-assured.
When you are engaged in a discussion with someone it is important to maintain eye contact both when you are listening and talking. Keep your gaze non-threatening and non-aggressive by focusing on the middle area of the person’s face. You can focus on just one eye, as it is actually physically difficult to keep both of your eyes on another person’s two eyes. Try focusing on one eye, or on a spot on the face, or calmly move back and forth between the two eyes. Keeping your focus on the bridge of the nose or on an eyebrow can also give the illusion of eye contact without your conversation partner never knowing the difference.
When you do break your gaze, make sure to show a smile, nod or other gesture to indicate that you are still interested in the conversation and not breaking off because you are looking to get out. It’s great to take a moment at networking events to scan the area and see if there is anyone waiting to talk to you, but be sure you don’t spend your whole conversation looking away.
Whatever you do, don’t overthink it and forget to actually be present in your conversation. Practice eye contact so it comes naturally and so you can be a focused listener and good communicator.
Beware Nonverbal Eye (and Eyebrow) Cues
Some nonverbal cues to be aware of include:
- People who maintain longer direct eye contact are generally more comfortable with you, and this often indicates that they like you
- But too much eye contact can indicate annoyance, anger, and discomfort
- A flash of the eyebrows (a quick up-and-down gesture) indicates recognition and some degree of fondness for someone else (think of when people say “oh, hey!”)
- Lowering of eyebrows shows dominance and aggression, while raising them signals submission
- Head down, eyes diverted shows ultimate submission
- “Side Eye” is the sideways glance with lowered eyebrows and a turned down mouth, which shows suspiciousness and hostility
- Rapid blinking shows nervousness, slow and lazy blinking shows a feeling of superiority or disinterest
- Darting eyes indicate the person is looking for a distraction or escape route and is a sign of insecurity
- Staring at the “third eye” area of the forehead indicates an attempt to gain control, keep people on their toes and inferior
It is important to always look straight ahead and maintain eye contact as there are some misconceptions about eye contact that people commonly believe and judge others based on. These include:
- Looking up while talking indicates lying
- Looking down while talking or listening indicates confusion
- Shifting eye contact shows hiding something
Don’t forget to adjust your mood!
You may be great at eye contact, but did you know that your pupils can give you away? Research shows that not only do wide pupils indicate excitement and narrow ones indicate negative feelings, but people also prefer other people with wide pupils to those with narrow ones.
This means it is ever so important to make sure you talk yourself into a good mood and excitement before you go to Ottawa networking events. eSAX is such a good one to start with because the casual atmosphere and presence of many other new entrepreneurs creates a low-pressure place to get out and practice.