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! 🙂
Thanks for this piece of advice. While most people don’t think about eye contact, I panic over it sometimes. If you’re having trouble making eye contact at first, you should try looking at a spot in between the other person’s eyes (without crossing your own, of course).
Thanks for the tip Liz! It can certainly be uncomfortable to look people right in the eye, especially if you don’t know them well. Your advice provides a good solution; looking between their eyes is less intimidating and a good place to start. As you become more comfortable, you can start to use more direct eye contact.
This blog has been really helpful, thanks so much!
Thanks, glad you like it 🙂 Feel free to send me an email if you have any questions or other feedback!
Nice article, but I would like to add something too. I’m not a pro when it comes to body language and conversations but I’ll share what I’ve read and experienced. 🙂
Force yourself to look into other people’s eyes while talking to them. Initially it’s tough and awkward, I used to have thoughts that the other person would find me creepy for looking into their eyes. But the key to maintaining eye contact is to increase it a few seconds at a time. Just when you want to look away, force yourself to keep looking for few more seconds and then look away. Keep doing this and you’ll train yourself to hold gaze without stupid thoughts coming into your mind.
Don’t look in the middle of the eyes, the other person just knows that you’re not looking in their eyes. Don’t switch the gaze between the eyes either, it doesn’t feel good to the other person. Instead, pick one of the eyes and keep looking into it, change the eyes only when the other person looks somewhere else.
Good tip! Thanks 🙂
Eye contect very good
I honestly believe eye contact to be the most important facet of all body language.
Further than simply making a person believe that you don’t find what they have to say worthwhile, bad eye contact – unwillingness to meet eyes, or darting eyes – subcommunicates stress and anxiety, and will make your conversation partner mirror and feel your uncomfortable energy.
Simply holding a relaxed eye contact, on the contrary, telegraphs comfort with the situation and also serves to put the other person at ease.
Good tips, I, I’m a speech and communications class ATM and wee had to read this. I’m sure it will be helpful to many people.
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This guide lines are so wonderful…!
i liked this a lot and i learned a lot and it was fun reading and all this stuff really helped me and really did work!
Needless to say Tips on Eye Contact do help me to improve my Body language.
Tnx. & Rgds.
Great! I just want to suggest you to add tips about how to make eye contact with possible mate and let them know that you are interested in them.Ciao! 🙂
An interesting discovery is that now that I can’t see well it is easier to look at someone’s eyes because they are blurry and I don’t perceive feedback as intensely as I used to. I think they see it as comfortable.
In the past I could not look at a persons’ eyes unless they were discussing something deeply emotional and then I would be riveted.
I still have trouble being the focus of attention.
I appreciate learning that if someone looks away due to discomfort I should respect it and look away as well.
The only helpful advice I gained from this thread came from commenter ‘g00by’. As someone that has grown intensely dissatisfied with human behavior, I have also progressed to a point where my general link to people through eye contact is relegated to discovering how incompetent that person is as fast as possible. Thus, I know a majority of new interactions are already “infected” by bad thoughts, which translate into eye contact that lacks empathy.
Because of this, I now really struggle with attempts at genuine, comfortable eye contact even in situations with friends and family. It now feels like I have ruined my connection to the human world because even the simplist interaction is complicated by poor eye contact. It causes anxiety in my facial muscles, I over-think reactions and instead of flowing naturally and just reacting, I anticipate and force expression. It also consumes my mind with anxiety and hurts my listening skills despite having very good hearing.
Worst part is, I am now well aware that life Requires! constant, human interaction, mainly through eye contact. And, the more I obsess over it, the more anxiety I develop, and the stronger my aversion to interactions and therefore the smaller my world gets.
As mentioned, poster ‘g00by’ mentioned a great tip, “Don’t switch the gaze between the eyes either, it doesn’t feel good to the other person. Instead, pick one of the eyes and keep looking into it, change the eyes only when the other person looks somewhere else.”
I feel confident this technique will help immensely because I have already experimented with it. I’ve never asked someone to evaluate my skill post-conversation, but it does seem obvious that trying to switch gazing from eye-to-eye is disconcerting to others. It upsets the link of expression into a competition to figure out how to match which eye you’re both looking at/into. Looking at just one eye seems to work well if not pursued to long or too intensely.
Hope this resonates with people that really need help with making better eye contact because doing so can only make the world better. Just remember this thought that helps me, “the eyes are the window to the soul.” The more you despise humanity for its unavoidable dark side, the more your contact with it will suffer. You create your own hell. Either learn to accept people and the world and trust God, or regress into an intense introvert that loses touch with reality.
thanks for posting your experience. i can understand how you feel because im facing the same problem as you have described. ever since i have grown to become bolder at purposely fixing my eyes on the other person, i have been subconsciously over-reading reactions from eye contact. and this is giving me anxiety. i will try the method you mentioned that helps you.
Very well said G3- I will follow your advice.
Hi there, after reading this remarkable article i am also delighted to share my knowledge
here with friends.
Has anybody any tips on keeping eye contact and not looking down. I constantly look down and can not break the habbit now it plays on my mind. I have tried the above and still no good.
Dan, I think your advice to imitate the eye contact you see in the movies needs some qualification.
The fact is that in many cases, the different parts of a movie conversation are not filmed at the same time. I’m talking about scenes where there is a back-and-forth conversation, not just a monolog, and the camera focuses on just one of the people and the other person is not in the frame. In those cases, the other person’s responses may be filmed minutes, hours or even months later; the two sides of the conversation are then put together in the editing room to make it look like it all happened continuously. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the TV series My Three Sons but Fred McMurray had been a big movie star in his day and his contract called for him to film a whole season of the show in just a few weeks so that he could golf or follow other interests the rest of the year. To accomodate him, they had him film all of the scenes where he had conversations with his sons in a fairly short time frame but they only recorded HIS side of the conversation, not what the sons said back to him. Then, while McMurray was away enjoying his time off, the OTHER side of the conversation would be recorded and the sons would pretend that he had already said his various words and then give their replies. Then all of the footage went to the editing room to be assembled into what looked like a single conversation.
In a nutshell, your advice only holds up for cases where both actors are on screen at the same time and the camera is focusing on both faces. (If one of the people is standing with his back to the camera or his head turned away, you won’t see the eye contact.) Even then, the people must be facing each other; when Siskel and Ebert talked in their show, they were basically both looking at the camera and not having eye contact with each other, just the audience.
Thanks a bunch! Between this and WikiHow,
I think I’ll have a lot less trouble with my interview. 🙂
Happy I could help 🙂
My,dear Dan ur blog has helped me,but what in the case of people having the tendency of obsessive compulsive disorder to look at any other body parts except for the eye,please help
Thanks for the advice. I thought it was really good (especially since it reviews not mirroring). The one problem I always run into with eye contact is actually looking at peoples’ eyes. Like, I can either only look at one eye or at the bridge of their nose…
It was the best way I had not heard that.
it was perfect step from you.
Hi Daniel this is Taylor henrie I just wanted to say that I love your videos a lot it helps me to understand about socail skills that I need to work on is the biggest help thank you so much that you do. I would like to have the next topic in one of your videos about good and bad ways to have Attention Because I need to learn this a little more thank you for everything you do
Good stuff. I hope it works.
Im not really used to eye contact even with my close friends or even my mom. I just find it awkward.. but thanks for this. This really helps 🙂
What if u really like her too shy
So i like a girl in my class ive had a ton of eye contavt and i texted her she replied but i screwed real bad writing all that despo stuff ii texted her again after some time cleared it up and she said she was cool but still wont talk
what should i do ?
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Hi, Dan. What about cultural differences? In some countries, sustained eye-contact is considered too full-on and impudent – almost a ‘fight’ for supremacy! It is seen as more polite to be humbler and not quite match the other person’s eye-contact, thus indicating that you are non-threatening and pleasant.
I grew up in a family where we look to listen, but look away to talk.
This was in order not to overwhelm the listener with the double-whammy of full-on eye-contact AND verbal ‘onslaught’! That would seem rude, domineering or insensitive.
Even now, in middle age, I tend to lower my gaze (or let it wander) when speaking at any length (with occasional glances at my listeners), but to look with interest when others are speaking, and give ‘active listening’ body-language feedback, like nodding, leaning forward, smiling, saying ‘a-ha’ etc to show interest & agreement. Even, if the speaker is nervous, opening one’s crossed arms when they are looking indicates acceptance & friendliness. 🙂
I would be very happy to read your reactions to these points, if you have time & inclination, please. Best wishes to you.
Very good written article. It will be supportive to anyone
who employess it, including myself. Keep up the good work – i will definitely read more posts.
Good post.Never knew this, thanks for letting me know.
Very well written article. This is really helpful for my presentation research on the link between eye contact and public speaking.
Great post. Very informative.
I have noticed that, if one makes eye contact with someone walking towards him, if they get within a certain distance of one another, it seems to be an unwritten rule that whoever breaks the eye contact first must acknowledge the other person with a nod or a hello. Once, while in Boston with a friend I made eye contact with a man walking towards me. As we approached each other,neither of us broke eye contact. Instead, we maintained the contact til we were beside each other at which time we both turned around and started walking backwards maintaining our eye contact. After a few seconds we both started laughing and turned around. I’veneverbeen able to replicate this and it’s been almost 50 years.
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Hey soo I camed becasue of this question: When I look at soneone and ge looks at me, do I look hes left or right eye? Or I look in middle of them (arround nose)?
Please answer, I cant find question anywhere.
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I don’t think it matters, but as g00by’s comment mentions, it might be best to choose one eye and stick with it until they look away, then you can switch if you want to. They may feel uncomfortable if you constantly switch eyes while they’re looking. It’s really just whatever you feel comfortable looking at, but be aware that they may notice if you look in the middle instead of their eyes.
This was such a good read, and some of the comments really stood out to me. I grew up feeling very bothered to make eye contact or knowing people were looking at me. That led me to blink a lot while making eye contact or even tensing up my face or body muscles. There was a phase where I would put my hand on my face and other times I would punch myself while talking. The movement I make are involuntary and I look extremely uncomfortable, I’m sure others notices it. It’s a horrible feeling..and I never found treatment for it. It’s been a long life living this way.
Man I wish I found this earlier. I found you in a comment on Reddit so I thought I might as well give it a shot and it looks like an effective method tbh. I’ll try this from now on and will report back the results if I remember haha.