We know that friendly eye contact is an important non-verbal cue of confidence, respect and connection in western cultures. But can you also show confidence, maintain respect and keep connection when breaking eye contact? Yes, you can, and you should!
Have you ever been in conversation with someone who is looking at you so intensely in conversation that it becomes uncomfortable? It can feel like a very bright light shining on you and can make you want to escape! Or alternatively, you keep up with the intense eye contact because you don’t want to be the first to break it, despite how uncomfortable it feels. Breaking eye contact is necessary because you don’t want to be the person who is making others feel uncomfortable with your intense eye contact.
The general rule when you are speaking is to maintain eye contact 50% of the time. When you’re listening that percentage increases to 70%. Your goal is not to get fixated on these percentages, but to learn how to break it when needed. In addition to making you and the other person feel comfortable, a study by Kyoto University in Japan found that people have a more difficult time processing information while making eye contact at the same time.
Here are some ways to break eye contact in a confident way without breaking connection with the other person while you are speaking or listening:
- When you want to break the intensity of eye contact, you can focus on the upper triangle of the person’s face. From the bridge of their nose to their forehead. This gives the appearance that you are still maintaining eye contact, but it will not be intense for you or the other person.
- When you do look away, look up or off to the side. You can use a prop or object such as a glass of water to reach for. Look at your prop and then back at the other person. This is a natural “break” in eye contact. Just make sure to not use your phone or your watch as an excuse to look away, or you will look distracted!
- When looking away, do not look down unless you are referring to notes or something down in front of you. Looking down gives the signal that you are uncomfortable or lacking in confidence.
When communicating virtually, it is certainly appropriate to maintain eye contact for longer periods of time, as it does not feel as “intense” across a screen as it does in physical space.
Have you discovered a clever and helpful way to break eye contact when you need to? Please share your experience!