Eye contact: An introduction to its role in communication

Explore eye contact’s vital role during conversation and suggestions for developing this skill. This is the first in a series of articles about effective eye contact during interactions.

Some are blue and some are green. Some are brown and others hazel. That’s right: the subject is eyes, but more importantly than the color of someone’s eyes is what their eyes are saying. Not only do our see for us, but they are also a mode of communication. A person can communicate with their eyes and never say a word. Our eyes show emotion or interest and if thought about too much, making eye contact can become awkward and uncomfortable.

Have you thought about eye contact as a skill? As adults, using appropriate eye contact can be difficult. What about youth? Eye contact can be tied to so many life skills that it’s important for our youth to practice and learn about eye contact as a communication skill. Consider for a moment using eye contact to show empathy, concern for others, to manage feelings or to help with communication. Those are all life skills that youth will grow and develop as they mature into successful adults.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. Eye contact during a conversation is vital. It shows attentiveness and interest in what is being said. Eye contact is similar to a conversation; it goes back and forth between those individuals who are engaged in a discussion, dialogue, or chat. But remember, just as maintaining eye contact is important, be sure not to stare! It can be easy to get caught up in a story that is being told, waiting for the next joke to be said, or listening so intently for the next word that may be spoken that you forget what you’re eye contact might be saying. Staring can create a feeling of uneasiness for both the person talking and the person listening. It’s hard to find that balance of having enough eye contact, but not too much.

Don’t worry if eye contact is something you struggle with. It’s likely that everyone will have a conversation sometime where they can identify some characteristics of odd eye contact, as well as characteristics of really great eye contact. Remember to learn from that. Whichever extreme you experience take a mental note of what you liked and didn’t like.

According to Conversation Aid, there are a few points that can summarize the importance of eye contact:

  • Eye contact opens and closes communication
  • Increased eye contact is associated with credibility and dominance
  • Lack of contact and blinking are interpreted as submissive
  • High status people are looked at, and look more while talking than listening
  • Stares communicate hostility

This article is the first in a series of articles that will examine eye contact in communication. Look for a future article about effective eye contact during presentations.

Did you find this article useful?