Making good eye contact is tough.
Give too much eye contact, and you come across as too intense (at best) or a creepy starer (at worst).
Give too little eye contact, and the other person might think you don't care about what they have to say.
Plus, when you're worrying about making good eye contact, the rest of the interaction suffers. Instead of enjoying a great conversation, you're stressing about eye contact.
That's not good for anyone.
The Secret Of Great Eye Contact
Fortunately, there's a simple trick that will help you master great eye contact.
Just match your eye contact with your partner's.
If they look at you, look at them. If they look away, look away.
Here's why it works. There's no such thing as "perfect" eye contact. Your goal is to make your partner feel comfortable with you, which means all you need to do is avoid giving too much eye contact or not enough.
Different people feel comfortable with different levels of eye contact. But almost everybody will initiate the amount of eye contact that they feel comfortable with. That means that if you give them the same amount of eye contact that they give you, they'll probably feel comfortable.
Look at your partner when they look at you (and look away when they don't), and you'll be squarely inside the level of eye contact they feel comfortable with. It really is that easy.
Mastering Good Eye Contact
Of course, there are a few details to take care of.
You don't want to mirror your partner exactly, or they'll quickly realize you're copying them. It's ok to instantly match their eye contact on occasion, but in general, you should wait a few seconds before copying them. Wait about one second before looking at them, and about two or three seconds before looking away.
Those numbers are just rough guidelines, of course. Feel free to experiment to find what feels natural for you. The important thing is that you avoid moving like a mirror image of your partner. The exact timing of your pauses is less important.
Also, be aware that eye contact rules change somewhat when you're having an emotional conversation. It's sometimes easier to discuss emotional issues when you're not looking at someone, so when people are sharing something very personal or emotional, they will sometimes look away from the person they are speaking to.
If that happens, you still need to look at them to show that you care. If your gaze wanders, that communicates that you don't really care about what they're saying, which is bad at any time but especially hurtful when they're sharing something emotional.
Eye Contact Rhythm
As you start to practice matching your partner's eye contact, you'll start to develop a sense of how much eye contact feels "natural." Eventually, you won't even need to consciously think about matching their eye contact---it will just happen automatically.
If you want to speed that process, there's an easy way to get a better sense of the "rhythm" of eye contact. Just watch some movies and pay attention to the eye contact given between the characters. That will help you see what kind of eye contact matching looks natural.
Bear in mind that different settings lead to different kinds of eye contact. Two flirting lovers might match eye contact shifts instantly and have more prolonged eye contact, whereas two acquaintances might take several seconds to match each other and look away often.
Also, when you analyze the movie interactions you might notice that characters will not match each other 100%---sometimes one character will look at another even though the other character is still looking away. This is totally ok.
All you need is a similar level of eye contact. There's no need to match their eye contact perfectly. If on occasion you feel like looking at them even though they're not looking at you, or you feel like looking away before they do, that's fine.
The important thing is that you are "in general" matching what they do. As long as you're in the same ballpark as them, then your eye contact will be fine. When you're starting out, you'll want to match their eye contact very closely to make sure that you stay in the safe zone.
But as you gain more experience, you'll get a better sense of what eye contact level feels natural. That will let you adjust your eye contact to what feels comfortable for both you and them, not just them.
The end result is that you won't have to think about eye contact at all---you'll just do the eye contact that feels natural for both you and your partner.
Take a bit of time to learn these good eye contact techniques, and you'll find yourself richly rewarded with more comfortable and enjoyable conversations for both you and your partners.
- When your partner looks at you, look at them. When they look away, look away
- Pause for a few seconds before matching your partner's eye contact
- As you develop more experience, you won't need to match your partner's eye contact as exactly because you can rely on your instincts.
That's all there is to it!
Of course, there's lots of other ways to master how your body communicates. If you want to continue building your social skills, check out my section on body language.
And be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think of my advice, or share an eye contact tip of your own. Thanks for reading!
I've released a video explaining this technique in more detail. Enjoy!