We have often been told to maintain eye contact in a conversation. But we are rarely told anything about how long should you hold eye contact in conversation.
Eye contact or looking into people’s eyes while talking to them is a very effective way of understanding whether or not someone is really into the conversation. Eye contacts provide crucial information about the other person’s emotions as well as intentions. Not maintaining eye contact is often seen as a sign of distraction, lack of interest, inattentiveness, or discomfort.
We now understand that it is not favorable to avoid eye contact. The case holds true even when you maintain eye contact for far too long. This makes it crucial to find the right balance in terms of making eye contact.
How much eye contact is normal in a conversation?
As a general rule of thumb, 3 seconds of eye contact is normal in a conversation.
What is a 3 seconds eye contact?
In more general terms, holding eye contact beyond 3 seconds puts you in the position of “Kiss or Kill.” This means that holding eye contact for beyond 3 seconds might be perceived either as your attraction towards the person or the buffer period before you attack them.
A study by University College London by Alan Johnston and his colleagues indicated that individuals felt comfortable holding eye contact for 3.2 seconds. Beyond that, the subjects of the study would usually feel uncomfortable or threatened.
In some cases, however, the other person might not feel as uncomfortable if they perceive you as welcoming or non-threatening. But there is little to no way of gauging whether others find you intimidating or not.
So ideally, try maintaining eye contact for 3 seconds before taking your gaze away. You could simply focus on other areas of their face or look away before making eye contact again.
How long is too long for eye contact?
Anything beyond 4-5 seconds of eye contact would be very long for eye contact. To not make others uncomfortable or to avoid signaling something which is not in line with your intentions, avoid holding eye contact for too long.
Too long of eye contact could also be perceived as a stare which is often not very pleasant.
There is a very thin line between holding eye contact and straight up staring at the other person. While eye contact means looking at the person while talking, it is usually accompanied by taking breaks. Staring on the other hand is a very long gaze or a fixed look. Eye contact radiates confidence and interest. A stare on the other hand is seen as threatening or even rude. It can easily make the conversation awkward too.
So when we ask, Is eye contact awkward?
Eye contact can end up being awkward when it is maintained for more than a couple of seconds. This happens because prolonged eye contacts are not something we are familiar with. And awkwardness comes easily when we have to deal with unfamiliar situations.
This makes it important to understand the different ways in which you can maintain eye contact without making it awkward.
How to make eye contact in a conversation?
Making eye contact in a conversation can be a very tedious task for some people. Here are some quick tips that can make it a little less stressful for you.
1. Use the triangle technique
The triangle technique is when you don’t just look at the person in the eyes but keep shuffling between the triangular region on their faces. This means that you keep moving your gaze from their eyes to their chin. This would indicate that you are very much into the conversation as your gaze stays on the person’s face and doesn’t wander to the surroundings.
2. Use gestures
Adding gestures when you are talking or listening is a smart way to maintain eye contact without making the other person feel uncomfortable even if the eye contact is a longer one. Gestures like nodding, or even tuning your facial expressions along the lines of the conversation can be quite helpful. You can also show your agreement or disagreement using hand gestures.
However, make sure to not overdo the gestures as it can be very distracting in any conversation.
3. Use the 50/70 Rule
One of the most popular rules when it comes to holding eye contact in a conversation is the 50/70 rule. The rule very interestingly states that it isn’t ideal for you to maintain eye contact with others 100% of the time while conversing. Maintaining eye contact for 70% of the time when you are on the listening end and for a mere 50% of the time when you are talking to others is perfectly fine.
4. Look away slowly
Now, what do you do when you realize that the eye contact has reached a point wherein it would make the conversation awkward if maintained for a couple more seconds?
Look away right?
True! But if you abruptly look away during a conversation, it would automatically draw more attention to where your gaze has moved.
Now there can be instances when you suddenly shift your gaze like when you realize that your friend is walking by. Or something might have fallen in the background that would steal your attention.
But during a conversation, when there are no such distractions, it is advisable to not move your gaze suddenly. Rather, try to slowly look away.
Looking away slowly would essentially not create any breaks in the conversation.
How to make eye contact in a group conversation?
Now that we know how you can hold eye contact when talking to one person, it’s equally important to understand the dynamics of holding eye contact when you are having a conversation in a group setting.
Group conversations could include casual conversations with your friends or even conversations with your colleagues or in meetings.
It is important for you as a listener in a group conversation to make sure that you give due attention to the person talking at that moment. This means it is indeed important to maintain eye contact with the individual talking. When you are not doing that, or even when you are looking at someone else in the group, the person talking might feel unheard or disrespected.
On the flip side, when you are the one talking in a group, make sure that your gaze isn’t fixed on one or two people. Try to distribute your attention equally to everyone in the group so that they don’t feel like they are not a part of the conversation.
The same holds when it comes to making eye contact in interviews. Try to spread out your gaze to all the panel members instead of looking only at the individual who asked you the question.
Eye contact in a speech
Making eye contact while public speaking is surprisingly very easy. Because wherever you look, you’ll end up meeting someone’s eye! So while it is easy to make eye contact with people when giving a speech, the thought of maintaining eye contact while public speaking can still be very scary.
Check out our video below to gain quick insights on how to jhold eye contact while public speaking:
Here are a couple of things that can make it easier for you to hold eye contact while public speaking:
1. Don’t meet their eyes
As bizarre as it may sound, the hack to maintaining eye contact is to not make eye contact with people. And while this may not possible when you are talking to merely 4-5 people, pretending to make eye contact is very convenient when it comes to speaking in front of a large crowd.
But how can you do that?
a. Focus on their foreheads
Looking at their foreheads or more specifically the area between their eyebrows can give an illusion that you are making eye contact with the crowd when you are not. Looking anywhere except the people’s eyes while talking is very helpful in a way that it doesn’t strip you of your confidence.
b. Look at the area between their nose and chin
Another way to give your audience an illusion that you are maintaining eye contact is to look at the area between their nose and chin. It can also help you gauge the audience’s reaction to some extent. Let’s say you cracked a joke, and instead of looking the audience in eyes you prefer looking at the area between their nose and chin, then their smiles or chuckles can give you cues as to how the audience is reacting to your speech.
c. Look between their shoulders
When the crowd is large, you can also look at the gaps between the people. Try to look between their shoulders as again, your gaze being closer to their faces would essentially make it seem like you are confident in maintaining eye contact with the audience.
d. Look at the audience sitting at the very far end
Yet another possible solution is to look at the audience at the very far end. The reason is that the only thing you’d be able to see would be their silhouettes. However, if you keep looking only at the audience sitting at the distant end, it may make the audience sitting in the front feel alienated or left out.
2. Shift your gaze quickly
If you feel that you want to make eye contact with the audience but are not very confident, you can try shifting your gaze very quickly among the members. This can work very well when you are giving a speech to a very large crowd. As the audience is sitting close together you can focus on a section of the audience at a time and shift your gaze quickly among the members sitting in the area before slowly moving to the next audience section.
What does it mean when someone makes prolonged eye contact without speaking?
If you observe that someone is making eye contact with you for a long time but is not speaking to you, then it could be because of any of the following reasons or more.
1. They are lost in their thoughts
How many times have you looked someone straight into their eyes when you were occupied with tons of thoughts?
You’d be lying if you said never!
We know that it is very easy to know if the person is looking at you to communicate something. Similarly, it is easy to identify if they are looking at you but are lost in their thoughts. You can notice it once they break eye contact. If they straighten up a bit, shrug, or move abruptly, they were probably deep in their thoughts.
2. They are trying to get your attention
Another possible situation someone makes eye contact with you without speaking is because they are simply trying to get your attention before they can start talking to you.
3. They are asking for help
Let’s assume you are in a club and you notice some random person has been looking at you for a long time and as soon as you see them you realize that it isn’t a creepy stare but instead a cry for help. It is very easy to gauge if someone is asking for help through eye contact and facial expressions.
4. They might be into you
We would suggest you not jump to this conclusion straight away. However, prolonged eye contact without speaking could indicate that the person is attracted to you. Or they could simply be admiring you.
How can you tell if someone likes you through eye contact?
Often longer contact is seen as a sign of attraction or affection. To some extent, you can say that someone like you through their longer eye contact. This is mostly because when we are not really into someone, we would feel uncomfortable holding eye contact for more than a couple of seconds.
How long is flirty eye contact?
Eye contact that lasts beyond 4-5 seconds can show a person’s interest in you and may be perceived as flirty eye contact.
To be more sure if the person is really into you, try to find any other cues besides just eye contact that would strengthen your assumption. It could be in terms of the way they talk to you or other behavioral cues that are more obvious signs of someone’s interest in you.
What does it mean when you avoid eye contact in a conversation?
Avoiding eye contact is seen as a way of showing disinterest, or nervousness. At times when you avoid eye contact, it can also indicate that you have something to hide or that you are being disrespectful to the other person.
While mostly avoiding eye contact is seen as an intentional act, at times people may just not be comfortable maintaining eye contact. They may have what we call eye contact anxiety. A person with eye contact anxiety dreads making eye contact and would do anything to avoid it.
Reasons someone avoids eye-contact
1. They are distracted
A reason why someone would not be maintaining eye contact is that the surroundings might just be very distracting. They might also be distracted because the conversation is not as interesting as the things they are distracted by.
2. They are thinking about something
A person might not maintain eye contact with you when they are deeply thinking about something. It could be any distracting thoughts or it could be that they are thinking about the ongoing conversation.
3. Holding eye contact is uncomfortable for them
As discussed, the reason they don’t hold eye contact with you may have nothing to do with you. It could just be uncomfortable for them to hold eye contact with anyone. They might steal glimpses here and there from time to time but would try their level best to not maintain eye contact with you.
4. The conversation is too emotional for them
Maybe the conversation is too emotional for them to maintain eye contact with you. They might look away to gather their thoughts and emotions.
While holding eye contact is an effective way of showing your interest in a conversation, too little or too much eye contact may not be very favorable. Avoiding eye contact could be seen as a sign of disinterest or distraction. While prolonged eye contact may be seen as threatening or creepy.
Holding eye contact for 3 seconds is often seen as ideal. Longer eye contact can also be a sign of attraction.
At times, eye contact anxiety might make it very uncomfortable for people to maintain eye contact. Understanding that eye contact although crucial must not be forced is important. Try to maintain eye contact as long as you and the other people you are talking to feel comfortable. Make sure to not overdo it.
In case you want to know more about how you can work on your eye contact in a conversation, try speaking to our experts at Frantically speaking. We would love to interact with you!