We All Refuse to Make Eye Contact and Thus Look Like Assholes


Hate looking people in the eye? Join the club — the awkward weirdo club that consists of most modern human beings.

Communications-analytics company Quantified Impressions studied 3,000 people and found that adults make eye contact between 30- and 60-percent of the time in an average conversation, but the ideal is way more. If you want to establish an emotional connection with the person you’re ordering pizza from, you must endure enjoy eye contact 60- to 70-percent of the time. Scary! Exciting!

Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters, a corporate-training company in Atlanta, thinks that the lack of eye contact might be because we’re all too busy playing Angry Birds on our smartphones. You might be having dinner with one friend, but you’re checking your texts to see if a more interesting option pops onto the screen.

In other words, we’re all incredibly rude and shouldn’t have any friends left — and it’s migrating into our jobs, too.

When people withhold eye contact out of carelessness or disrespect, it speaks volumes. Suzanne Bates, author of “Speak Like a CEO,” has coached executives who check their smartphones so often during meetings that “it’s the equivalent of not showing up for half the meeting,” she says. Employees get the message that they’re not important and typically resent it, thinking, “I’m just as busy as the CEO. I just have different things to juggle,” says Ms. Bates, chief executive of Bates Communications, Wellesley, Mass.

Not only that, withholding eye contact makes us appear untrustworthy (aka shifty as fuck). People who don’t make eye contact or who avert their gaze often are seen as “untrustworthy, unknowledgeable and nervous.”

But never fear! You can alleviate these problems easily with just (your own) two eyes and one brain. According to Ben Decker, the chief executive officer of Decker Communications, a San Francisco-based training and consulting firm, holding eye contact works best for 7 to 10 seconds in a one-on-one conversation, and for 3 to 5 seconds in a group setting. So maybe try that the next time you feign interest in something another person is saying?

To drive this point home, pretend I was staring deep into your eyes for the past ten minutes — do you trust me? Or did you already call the garbage company to have me removed? Probably the latter says Decker:

Too much eye contact can cause problems, too. At work, holding eye contact for more than 10 seconds can seem aggressive, empty or inauthentic, Mr. Decker says. In a social context, it may be seen as a sign of romantic interest, or just plain creepy. A study published this year in Applied Neuropsychology: Adult found questioners who gazed intently into participants’ eyes while administering a test unnerved them so much that their working-memory performance was impaired.

I think there’s another layer here when it comes to male and female interactions. As a woman, which is something that I am, I often go out of my way to initiate and sustain eye contact with men — especially if they’re resistant. I’ve had bosses who would give me notes while looking at a male coworker, as if his penis controlled his pupils. I would physically move myself into his line of view — perhaps that was agressive, but sometimes you need to pull out a power move.

That said, I also worked with a person who held eye-contact a second or ten too long, and I swear that’s why he was fired. That, or the fact that he was stealing clothes and returning them to other stores. Either way: shifty. as. fuck.

[Wall Street Journal]


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