Much of communication is nonverbal, we are used to focusing on the verbal that we often tend to overlook the physical aspect of it. Body language is a form of physical communication that is often underrated. It is important to know how to read all forms of body language because it helps communication, improved social interactions and most importantly, it is difficult to hide. Unlike verbal speech where it is relatively easier to lie, body language often gives away a person’s true intentions. You can have the ability to completely see through a person.
A form of body language that is very important to learn is eye contact. Every social interaction starts with eye contact; it creates the initial connection. Even if nothing is said and you make eye contact with a complete stranger, a connection has been made. You are then free to follow up with a conversation. I cannot stress the importance of eye contact, in fact, there are multiple studies available that prove that maintaining eye contact even makes you appear more attractive, stronger and a good leader.
Maintaining eye contact is a mark of confidence. There is a vulnerable element in holding someone's gaze. It's part of what makes it difficult, but you come off as genuine, and that is appealing. In this study; Reward Value of Attractiveness and Gaze, Kampe 2001, perceived attraction increased when meeting a person’s eye due to increased brain activity. The brain activities were due to dopamine sections linked to reward prediction. This means that when you make eye contact with another person their central reward systems are activated. It's the same feeling you get when you buy a new game or complete a task. The potential of getting rewarded is high, and that is a good feeling.
Another study proved that you communicate strength and leadership when you maintain eye contact (Effects of Duration of Eye Contact on Judgments of Personality Characteristics, Brooks 2010). Participants rated those who maintained continuous eye contact as more potent (i.e strength, aggression, and leadership). This is the masculine aspect of maintaining eye contact.
In addition, maintaining eye contact gives you a lot of information about the other person (Gaze and eye contact: A research review, Kleinke 1986). This study showed how gaze functioned to provide information, regulate interaction, express intimacy, exercise social control, and facilitate service and task goals.
Making and holding eye contact is not as simple as it sounds. Imagine the last time you held eye contact with someone and how that felt. Who was that person? Was it a stranger, or someone you knew really well? Think of why it is easier to maintain eye contact with some people than with others. “The eyes are a window into the soul”. Making and holding eye contact tells you a lot about a person, but it also tells the person a lot about you. The key is wanting to communicate as honestly as possible without hinting towards deceit. This is not necessarily deceit in a malicious manner, but more to hide the truth. Personally, I use eye contact to quickly analyze a person and rapidly facilitate a connection. This requires building a mental database of individual and collective experiences with others in order to help me make the right assessments. To maintain eye contact, you should genuinely want to know about that person and not be afraid of that person knowing more about who you really are.
Just because you are willing to hold eye contact does not mean others are. A gaze can be very powerful, and sometimes even intimidating. I have gotten many reactions from people who have met my gaze and they have been good and bad.
Good: A bright smile always makes my day, though a mischievous smile can always be fun. If a person smiles while meeting your gaze it's often a good sign and an invitation.
Bad: I was at a bar and I ran into a supposed acquaintance. I could not remember his name- honestly, I wasn’t even sure I knew the guy, but he was all right. His buddy, however, was staring daggers at me. I turned to him and asked if I knew him. He responded; “that’s my best friend” while holding eye contact. I simply said, “that’s cool”. Then he moved closer while holding my gaze and repeated: “that’s my best friend”. I got a bad vibe from him so I left their area. Later I found out this guy got arrested by the police for fighting and carrying a firearm. Talk about dodging a bullet. I was only able to know this person was dangerous because I was willing to hold his gaze and run him through a database of my previous interactions. To see the darkness in others you’ll have to risk others seeing the darkness in you.
If a person isn’t willing to make eye contact with you it means they do not want to talk with you or it makes them feel uncomfortable/ intimidated. With practice, you will be able to tell the difference. This is a really useful filter when deciding whom to talk to, especially in a new place.
A common question I've got is; when do I need eye contact? Every time, especially in social and professional situations. Another common question is; how long do I need to hold eye contact? Simple answer- don’t worry about it. It may not even be possible to hold eye contact for too long when conversing with a person. If you are not conversing and you both are holding eye contact, just make it a staring match- it’s a pretty good ice breaker.
Hope this helped you all. Post down below how you use eye contact and what’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you with a complete stranger.
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