How Long Should You Hold Eye Contact?

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Woman explaining with eye contact

It’s hard not to feel a little bit awkward when you or someone you’re talking to holds a gaze for just that little bit too long. But how long is too long? Isn’t strong eye contact a good thing, after all?! These are qualms I’d like to lay to rest for you in today’s blog!

Isn’t it funny how something so simple – that is, maintaining eye contact – can be so difficult to get right!  The reason for this is that holding your eyes is not a natural thing to do. It is a discipline we need to attain because of social constraints. To make an effective change, you need to know what your natural pattern of eye contact is and then understand and practice the social required norm. In Western culture, that norm is to look at the people to whom you are speaking. But there is more.

In this blog I will not discuss why, but trust me, breaking out of the pattern our society demands will have you looking like an untrustworthy liar, so it is very important to master.

When looking at an individual and holding your gaze, one trick is called the triangle technique – that is to visualise the eyes and mouth as three points of a triangle. Just softly and slowly switch to the next point. At first it might seem like conscious effort, but in no time at all it will become second nature! Alternatively, when you get stronger, just looking into the eyes is the best technique.

That makes it easy for you. What makes it easy for the other person is that you soften your head and face. This means nodding slowly and smiling, but most importantly, to stop the eye gaze you blink. That blink rate is approximately 15 times a minute (that’s every 4 seconds). Yes, I said it was a discipline.

You can look away and there are two rules for doing so. One is that you can look at a thing, like a pencil or your finger. The other person can also see this which is much better than sending your eyes off sideways or up with a focus way out of the other person’s sphere.  Or you can ask permission to move your eyes by saying “let me think about that.” Asking permission, by the way, is a great way of getting away with most unusual behaviours.

You might wonder, however, “Surely, you can’t be looking at your accomplice the entire conversation?!” Apart from the above-mentioned eye escapes, basically you are. However, remember, they won’t be looking at you. Firstly, there is every chance that they don’t have the discipline, but secondly, you will be taking the conversation to a higher level by using gestures to guide their eyes elsewhere, but more of that in another blog.

When speaking to many people, we need to share the eye contact. To start off on a strong foot, it’s accepted by many in my professional speaking realm that about 4 seconds is the ideal window of time to hold direct eye contact before you should switch up your gaze. There’s been a study done to prove this, but studies aren’t everything. Personally, I find it more successful to hold the eye contact to the end of the sentence or point being made.  For example, if you are saying “all cows drink water” then the eyes hold to the end of that sentence. If you are counting to 4, then you may hold to the end of that counting or change eye contact on each number. Both work.

Hopefully I’ve put an end to any eye-laden anxieties so that you can carry out all your future communications with the kind of confidence and presence that gets better results! If you’d like to learn more beyond the blogs that I write, then you’ll be glad to know I’ve created a few courses to allow you to cultivate your communication skills in real-time with like-minded learners and pros to guide you! To build your presence and influence, follow the link!

Dr. Louise Mahler

Dr. Louise Mahler

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About Me

Dr Louise Mahler is a body language expert. With a focus on study of the mind-body relationship and business applications; providing practical inspiring improvement to global leaders.

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