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Making eye contact isn’t always easy.
It can feel awkward at times, especially when you haven’t yet built a bond with the other person.
But why is eye contact important in the first place?
Let’s uncover why eye contact matters and what you can do to improve your eye contact skills.
The importance of eye contact in communication
Eye contact is an important part of communication. But in order to understand why, we must first answer an important question:
What does eye contact mean?
Eye contact is what happens when two people look at each other’s eyes at the same time. This is a form of nonverbal communication that humans use to communicate many forms of emotions.
Unlike other primates, we can easily see where humans are looking because of the amount of white surrounding our irises. As a result, we know where someone is looking even when their head doesn't move.
This is why eye contact plays a huge role in communication.
Let’s explore four reasons why eye contact communication is important:
1. Bond with others
Research has shown that eye contact activates the limbic mirror system. This means that the same neurons that are firing in someone’s brain will also fire in yours when you share eye contact with them.
So, if their eyes are communicating joy, neurons on your end will also fire to feel joy.
This sharing of emotional states can help you bond with others and increase empathy between individuals.
2. Display honesty
Good eye contact is an important display of honesty during a conversation.
The eyes are a central part of nonverbal communication. They show a range of emotions that words won’t always speak. And honesty can help two people build trust.
3. Increase your resistance to persuasion
4. Improve understanding between people
It’s easy to have misunderstandings, even when two people believe they’re both listening intently. Making eye contact helps both people focus on the conversation and read facial expressions. This can improve understanding.
And improving understanding can significantly improve communication between two people.
5. Build respect
Finally, making eye contact shows and earns respect.
Of course, it takes more than eye contact alone to nurture respect in a relationship. But it plays an important role. Looking someone in the eyes shows them that you think they are important.
3 things everyone should know about eye contact
Eye contact is beneficial for the reasons we mentioned above, but there are other facts that make it an interesting and important concept.
Let’s take a look at three of them:
1. Eye contact helps others remember what you said
When you share eye contact during a conversation, you’ll remember more of what the other person said.
The reverse is true as well. Other people will retain more of what you said.
Research found that during a video call, participants retained more of the information from the call when there was more eye contact involved. And, people don’t even need a huge amount of eye contact to get this benefit.
The researchers found that a direct gaze for 30% of the interaction is all it takes for participants to significantly increase what they remembered from the call.
2. Eye contact can help with self-awareness
Their research found that people are more self-aware when they’re making effective eye contact than when they’re avoiding eye contact.
Researchers theorize that we’re more focused on our own bodies and behavior when other people look at us.
3. Eye contact creates attraction
Eye contact attraction is a real thing. Research shows that humans find other people more attractive when they make eye contact.
Smiling can also help create attraction.
While this is important for personal relationships, it also matters at work. Colleagues and leaders will be more inclined to build relationships with you when you look them in the eye.
On the other hand, no eye contact can show a lack of confidence.
Tips for making eye contact
If you find that your eyes wander away from the other person’s eyes during social interactions, or if you have social anxiety, here are five tips you can use to improve and make eye contact more often.
You’ll also learn how to maintain eye contact during an entire conversation.
1. Make eye contact before you start talking
Before you utter your first word, make eye contact. When the contact is established, you can start talking face-to-face.
2. Hold your gaze for 4 to 5 seconds at a time
Not sure how long you should hold another person’s gaze or how much eye contact to make? Try looking into people’s eyes for four to five seconds at a time.
Instead of looking down when you break eye contact, look to the side. Then, you can resume eye contact.
3. Use gestures
Do you ever feel uncomfortable and want to break eye contact? Instead of just looking away, try using gestures and body language.
You can nod, use your hands, or use other gestures that you usually make during a conversation.
This will look more natural than just looking away.
4. Move your eyes slowly
Avoid looking away too quickly when you break eye contact. This can make you seem nervous.
Instead, look away slowly.
5. Maintain eye contact 50% of the time
When you’re having a discussion with someone, use the 50/70 rule. This means you should hold eye contact between 50%–70% of the time.
Maintain this amount of eye contact both while you are talking and while you are listening.
Why is eye contact important: the key to building relationships at work
Eye contact can help you improve your personal relationships. It can also help you increase respect and trust at work.
If you struggle to make eye contact, you can improve your communication skills at work (and do much more) with BetterUp’s coaching platform.
Request a custom demo to see how it can help you advance your career.
Sr. Insights Manager