Role of Eye Contact
Welcome dear participants to the 5th module of the first week. In the previous module
we had introduced Oculesics or the language of the eyes. We had looked at different
types of gazes. In this module we would look at the role of eye contact in different
interpersonal situations, for example, in the classroom as well as during other certain
professional situations like making a presentation and facing interviews etcetera. During
any interaction it is important to hold the eyes of the other person you are talking to.
In fact, eye contact is an integral part of human interaction, in a way it has been found
that it is hardwired in our system. If we are able to retain the gaze of a person during our
interaction, we find that it results in the better retention of the content. At the same time
we are able to explain our ideas in a better way and get an immediate feedback also. If
you are able to automatically shift attention in the direction of another person’s gaze, it
also results in both people looking at the same thing and attending to the same thing.
We will see how during one two one dialogue as well as in a small group presentations
this is skill is helpful. This phenomenon of joint attention facilitates development of
language as well as social cognition particularly in young children.
In the previous module we had referred to Neuro linguistic Programming. Theorist were
working in the area of NLP suggest that the natural eye movements that accompany
thought processes are never random. Rather these eye movements are correlated with the
content we are thinking of as well as the larger pattern of these thoughts. The level of eye
contact as well as in some situations and absolute lack of eye contact reflects the persons
psychiatric or neurological functioning.
In various medical journals this aspect has been commented on and later findings have
corroborated them in professional situations also. Medical researchers have found that
amongst people who are depressed or anxious or psychotic, there is a difficulty in
maintaining a good and frequent eye contact.
Similarly, people who have attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity are frequently
observed to rapidly scan the environment in a single gaze. In therapeutic relationships a
good eye contact is associated with a better and more successful recognition of
psychological distresses in patients. We can also say that these tendencies are reflected in
our classroom also when we are engaging a class as well as in other professional
interpersonal settings. These findings are equally well it in the classroom situations.
All of us know on the basis of our experience that as teachers we might be looking at
anywhere in the classroom at anytime, but students tend to learn more from those
teachers who they think are trying to maintained an eye contact with them. And they
automatically are rather bored with those people who are referring to their notes
continuously or simply writing on the blackboard without maintaining an eye contact.
Manusov and Patterson have reflected on the potentially important eye behavior for
teachers which they have termed as the “teacher stare” and we often use it to manage the
students class room behavior. At the same time we find that we can avoid unnecessary
hostile attribution with unruly pupils by considering proximity as well as brief eye
contact with them. However, at the same time it is important that we avoid unnecessarily
extended eye contact with a particular person as too long is there may generate a
perception of hostility or threat or at the same time may make the person unnecessarily
Eye contact is equally important during the panel discussions also. In panel discussions
as well as another public discussions we find that the physical arrangement of seating is
very meticulously designed. It should be designed in such a way that all these speakers
are able to look at each other maintain a positive eye contact with every other participant
in the panel as well as they have an unobstructed eye contact with the audience also.
Here in the given picture we can feel that panelist are seated in a semicircle in front of
the audience and then at the same time there are proper paper name tents in front of each
speaker and the lighting is also adequately bright. In comparison to these seating
arrangements where a positive eye contact is encouraged, we can also look at certain
other images where the eye contact is not fully possible.
In this image we find that the decor or the mise-en-scene is very nicely done there is a
nice stage setting there are comfortable chairs, there are low tables so, that the view with
the audience is not obstructed. But the chairs have been put in a straight line so, that the
speakers are unable to have any eye contact with each other while they are participating.
The level of participation as well as the enthusiasm of the speakers would automatically
be adversely affected in this situation. These two different seating arrangements
automatically convey the significance of eye contact in these type of situations.
Eye contact is equally important in all the interview situations. In fact, it can be said that
a direct and positive eye contact can often make the difference between one selection or
rejection. Eyes indicate the level of our interest; they also indicate the level of our
confidence as well as the level of professional preparation during our interaction.
A positive eye contact suggest interest as well as preparedness on the part of the
candidate as well as it also suggest that the person is careful of the employers, time and
energy and is fully prepared to appreciate it and this is reflected not only with the help of
the answers, but also with the help of eyes eye level conveys confidence.
So, if a candidate during an interview looks down at the shoes or focus is on the table,
then these type of gaze directions convey a lack of confidence less prepared candidate as
well as a nervousness on his or her part. At the same time making eye contact in a
positive and confident manner sends the message that the candidate is fully prepared.
During the interviews sometimes candidates become confused as to with home they have
to maintain the eye contact.
If they are being interviewed by a group of people then should they only focus on the
person who is ask the question or should they look at the complete team. I would suggest
that one should focus automatically more on the person who has asked the question, but
while they are answering they should also maintain an equal eye contact with the rest of
the team members also.
A positive eye contact during interviews exhibits honesty as well as interest and
intentions of the candidate. While it is good and advisable to make a positive eye contact
one should also be careful not to introduce a sudden change in once eye contact. For
example, you have been facing the interview board with a positive eye contact, but
suddenly in answer to a particular question you start blinking or you start avoiding the
gaze, then it would send negative messages immediately. If not about the whole
candidature then definitely about that particular point where you had started blinking or
avoiding the gaze.
Some people have a particular sparkle in their eyes; the eyes shine and often we find that
the shine or a sparkle is associated with the level of preparedness. If a candidate is fully
prepared and is confident that the answer he or she is providing is correct then
automatically there would be a shine and confidence in the eyes. This shine and a sparkle
allows the interviewer to think that what you are talking about is actually an aspect in
which you are interested and at the same time you are revealing and information of
which you are proud.
It is important that when you are giving information about your achievements, about
your past experience or your academic excellence then it has to be given with a certain
level of confidence and sparkle in the eyes. This is sparkle inspires the employer who
may think that here is a candidate who is definitely interested in the position.
Eye contact is often linked with the trust issue because as a society we have been taught
right from the childhood that someone who looks away during the conversation, while
answering a question is not a person whom we can trust easily. And therefore, in the
contacts which we have already decided for this dialogue of body language during this
course, eye contact is definitely linked with the trust issue. It is also linked with good
manners and likeability in some countries for example, in Japan, in traditional setups
people are still encouraged to avoid a direct eye contact which may sometimes be
understood as being rude.
In comparison to that in the USA we find that a directness of the gaze is always
preferred. While it is good to be aware of the cultural differences which exist and one
should be sensitive to them. It is also important that a directness of the gaze is something
which is more and more being considered as an exhibit a once level of confidence and
openness. During our conversation it is important that we maintain continuously a direct
eye contact. Sometimes it may be possible that in order to think about something or in
order to organize our ideas we look away as in exhibition of an invert thought for a
couple of seconds and this is perfectly all right.
So, this is a part of the direct eye contact and it should not be thought that even while
you are looking away for a couple of seconds in order to reorganize your ideas, it is
something negative. During a presentation as well as during a one to one conversation it
is important to captivate the eyes of the person with whom you are talking.
In order to control the gaze of a person you are interacting with sometimes a pen or a
pointer may be used during the presentation. While you are talking to a person and you
find that the other person is looking at some other places which indicates that he or she
might not be very interested in what you are saying or is busy in one’s own thoughts.
Then it sometimes works as a good strategy you can use a pen or a pointer an gradually
bring this in front of the eyes of that person, gradually you would find that the eyes of
that person are focused on this pen and gradually this pen can be brought to the point
which you want to illustrate.
So, you would find that gradually by captivating the eyes of the other person, you would
be in a position to make the other person look at the point you want to highlight. This is
important not only during these type of presentations where you are displaying
something on some type of a board or a screen, but it is equally important when you are
displaying something on a piece of paper to someone.
The same strategy works during this type of dialogues also this particular image which I
have taken from LNPs illustrates it very significantly. As you can see in the 1st image
the speaker is trying to ensure that the gaze is shifted towards the tip of the pen and then
in the 2nd image the person has gradually brought the pen to the point in the book or the
notebook where the person has to concentrate.
So, controlling eyes during the dialogue also controls the thought patterns of the other
person. During other public speech situations as well as during any social interaction
where one is in a formal position presenting something.
Maintaining an eye contact is very important often we have to make presentations during
conferences and we may be asked several questions. While answering these questions it
is important to have a positive eye contact to build trust and engage the attention of the
audience. In these situations, it is advisable to engage the whole body open the whole
body towards the audience turn in such a manner towards the audience that the person
feels that you are actually turning to look at the person listen to the question, which is
being asked and then answering to that.
These suggestions help a person to think that you are genuinely interested in the question
which has been asked. In the particular video you would find that these aspects of
opening up one’s body as well as maintaining the eye contact is done very nicely.
He is world renowned for making people feel like even when he speaks to them down a
line as he shakes their hand. He makes them feel like they are the only person in the
room like there is a person that he cares most about and people always question, what it
is that creates this effect; my hypothesis my thesis if you will is that its his eye contact.
I think governor of a small state for 12 years, I will tell you how it’s affected me every
year congress and the president signed laws that makes a makeup. So, the first thing you
will notice and throughout this is that probably 90 to 95 percent of the time that bill
Clinton is speaking, he is looking directly at this woman. He holds eye contact with her.
A lot of people struggle to do this; when they are listening they have no problem looking
someone in the eyes, but when it comes time to speak they get very very very
uncomfortable with it, they cannot think straight the one of the things that bill Clinton
does very well is when he breaks eye contact is not an abrupt thing.
In fact, as he walks away from this woman, he signifies with his body first that he is
about to leave by shifting his weight continues to speak for a few more seconds and only
then does he look away. So, that way the eye contact is not immediately broken there is a
sense that he is about to wrap up, what he says and its almost like saying goodbye. So,
she knows that its over. So, just like.
So, most people are working harder for less money than they were making 10 years ago,
it is because we are in the grip of a failed economic theory and this decision you are
about to make better be about what kind of economic theory you want not just people
saying I want to go fix it, but what are we going to do, but I think we have to do is invest
So, he starts shifting his body right here you can see he is about to walk away.
From jobs American education control American health care costs and bring the
American people together again.
We have been talking about the significance of good and positive eye contact, but a too
much emphasis on eye contact during initial contact etcetera.
Sometimes may create a level of discomfort in the communicator and one may feel
rather apprehensive of this pressure of maintaining good and positive and open eye
contact, while making a presentation while participating in a group discussion interviews
or brainstorming sessions etcetera.
And therefore, this pressure would somehow make us fidgeting and therefore, it has been
noticed that they are people who are acutely aware of the fact that they have to maintain
an eye contact and is still there unable to do it, it results in negative body postures also.
So, what strategies we can adopt to avoid distinction?
In order to avoid these situations sometimes people try to pick up a random object for
example, a paper weight which is lying on the table and then they keep on looking at it.
In fact, they may end up talking to a paper weight instead of talking to the interviewer.
However, if a negative eye contact is, but too much of an eye contact is equally bad if
not worse. If somebody stares deeply into the interviewers eyes, the entire interview may
end up with minimal blinking and creating a very strength impression on the other
In order to avoid these two situations of extreme, we should try to plan and prepare for a
happy medium. I would like to mention a trick which I have found very effective it was
first mentioned by dale Carnegie and the trick is very simple; that means, that you have
to look at the interviewers eyes long enough to register the colour of the interviewers
eyes. For whatever reason this fraction of seconds of eye contact allows a person to think
that you are not hesitant in making a positive eye contact and often it helps those people
who feel awkward in maintaining a proper eye contact.
Maintaining an eye contact during presentations may be rather tricky particularly if the
size of the audience is pretty large; obviously, we cannot look at everybody therefore,
certain a strategies can be used. A particular strategy is to look at the top of head at the
front row of people who are sitting in the hall.
For example, you can look at the first row, but instead of looking into their eyes, you can
try to look at couple of inches higher than the head for example or the airline and then
the people who are sitting on the back rose would automatically think that you are trying
to look at them as well as the front row people also. Another trick is to think of the
audience as sitting in a Z formation. With the help of the eyes you try to gaze at the
people making a Z and different points of this Z would allow you to maintain a positive
eye contact with different sections of the people.
While making the Z with your eyes, it is also important to look closely at certain sections
of the audience once and twice varying the gaze depending on the suitability of the
content. While we make a full eye contact a positive eye contact, it is also important to
learn that the whole face contact should also be accompanied with it. As we would see
later on in our discussions of body language, the whole face contact which in corporates
the smiles as well as nods depending on the content also incorporates a feeling of
positivity among the audience particularly during the interaction sessions.
At the same time if you are standing on the left turn, then you also have to peg a real or
imaginary point or person in every corner of the group and then by maintaining different
types of eye contacts you would find that you can create this impression among the
audience that you are looking at a larger number of them. And even if we are not able to
maintain a direct eye contact with a large audience, it is absolutely essential to pass on
this impression that we have this desire to maintain this eye contact and in fact, we are
maintaining this eye contact in the given situation.
Inadequate eye contact results in very awkward situations. In fact, the significance of eye
contact has been adapted in various TV shows to create certain hilarious moments. Some
few of might be familiar with the famous American TV sitcom friends, which was aired
between 1994 and 2004 for 10 seasons on NBC television. This is a story which is based
on six friends and in this particular clipping you can look at some various hilarious
moments when different friends try to incorporate eye contact sometimes too much eye
contact and sometimes very little eye contact.
There are three primary concerning sediment flow rate each of these theories can be
further subcategorized into.
Its a face apology you know look him in the eye, I know I could get.
I do not know.
I am telling you, I can do it.
You can do it.
Hey, listen guys we feel really terrible.
(eye contacting do not look at him do not look at him.
Come on you guys we want you to know we are very very sorry.
Whereas in interactive situations a positive eye contact is important, it is also helpful for
us to understand what different type of glances and gazes mean to us. Let us look at the
sideway glance and what are the different messages it may communicate. It may
communicate a sense of hostility, uncertainty or suspicion and at the same time it can
also give a suggestion of being interested in the other person. In order to understand what
exactly is the emotion which is being conveyed, we have to look at accompanying
If it is the emotion of hostility and suspicion which is being passed on, you would find
that the head would turn away, the eyebrows would furrow, lines would appear on the
forehead, mouth will drupe and go critical. At the same time is somebody is interested,
then the neck maybe exposed, the head may be tilted the eyebrows may be raised there
may be a little smile and often you would find that this is understood as a courtship
So, you would find that in order to understand the glance and its significance it is
imperative for us to look at the interpretations of the accompanying body signals also. As
we have discussed earlier a particular isolated nonverbal signal is like an isolated word
which may have different meanings. Its only when we look at the cluster of kinesic
movements that we are able to fix the meaning by putting it in a sentence.
Similarly, you would find that extended blinking also occurs in an unconscious manner.
It may occur when either a person is engrossed in one’s own thought and wants to cut off
from the whole situation or on the other hand wants to in a way block others from the
sight and from the cognizes itself.
The extended blinking suggest that the brain does not want to tolerate dealing with the
other person who is talking or the person is not interested in the content at all finds it
extremely painful. So, you would find that the eyes would shut automatically for two or
three seconds are even longer and this sight remains closed as a person wants to remove
you momentarily from his mind we can understand that it is a negative gaze. Let us look
at some other examples of darting eyes, stammering eyes or even the gaze avoidance.
Darting eyes suggest the gaze in which a person enters the room and suddenly wants to
check at what is happening in the room in a single gaze. Sometimes you would find that
it me suggest authority a person in authority has entered the room and wants to find out
what everybody is doing or at the same time in situations of extreme nervousness, when
the brain is trying to look for a possible escape route. In these situations if it is suggested
and authenticated by the rest of the kinesics signals, then it reveals the insecurity of a
Darting eyes are also associated with the line behavior of people however researches tell
us that practiced liars have learnt to hold the gaze for a longer period. So, holding the
gaze for an unnecessarily longer period as well as darting eyes both me suggest that the
person is lying. At the same time stammering eyes suggest an action of keeping the eyes
closed for prolonged periods of time; that means, that we do not want to speak out what
exactly is in our mind.
And all together gaze avoidance is normally associated with negative emotions, a person
may be nervous may be feeling downcast wants to avoid the other person, wants to show
the anger etcetera or the superiority. However, you would find that sometimes gaze
avoidance may also be associated with the intention of coming across as a more
subordinate person or sometimes it may be in excuse to reduce the anxiety and intensity
so, as to defuse a situation.
So, we have looked at different types of eye contacts where as a positive eye contact is
very important for us. A negative or shifty eye contact also passes on negative
associations for us. However, I would retreat this fact that in order to make out the true
interpretation of the oculesics behavior. It is important to authenticate it by looking at
other associated signals also.
A very interesting we do you suggest how eyes are connected with other cues from body
language and how they help us to reach a particular conclusion.
Here I would also like to point out that there is a variation between the speed of speech
and the speed of comprehension. Normally we have a capacity to listen somewhere
around 650 to 700 words per minute and I am talking about and averagely educated
person. However, the rate of a speech is relatively slow we normally cannot speak for
more than 150 words per minute. We speak more words than this then the speech would
become too fast and the audience would not be able to comprehend properly.
Therefore, we find that average listeners have three quarters of the listening time and
they automatically use it to evaluate the content of what is being set; to focus on the
kinesics signals, to look at the eyes, to accept reject or contest what is being set. And
often you would find that impatient students as well as impatient participants in any
professional dialogue, can of an interrupt the speaker to ask the questions and this is
normally done to pick up the non verbal accompaniments of speech.
If the listener looks away from the speaker during the talk or presentation, it suggest that
the listener does not necessarily agree with the content or has certain reservations about
it. Looking at the speaker during the talk suggest interest and agreement also. If a
speaker looks at the audience it suggest confidence with the content as well as an
openness to share the content with the audience.
However, if the speaker looks away from the audience, it suggests that either the person
does not have confidence in the content or wants to avoid further questioning or at the
same time may try to hide certain feeling. In certain scenarios particularly in professional
situations one status is also important. People of higher status look relatively less while
they have to listen to what other people say and they look at their subordinates more
while they are talking to them or passing on certain instructions to them. So, clustering
with other nonverbal signals is important as we have already seen in the previous video.
We had referred to neuro linguistic programming in our previous module. It was started
by Doctor Richard Bandler and Doctor John Grinder and we can see that it is like
learning the language of our own mind. They have authenticated with the help of their
research that the random movement of the eyes indicate the background processes which
are running through the mind of the speaker and then this is reflected through the
direction of gaze. In our previous module we have discussed it in detail and if you look
closely at this diagram you would find that this is further information about it.
This diagram also retraites the findings of NLP which are helpful for us and we are told
what may be the indications, if the person is looking at a particular direction. You would
find that the left and right directions are indicative of different types of thinking
Though NLP as a science has been established relatively recently, we find that the first
indications of NLP are found in William James treatise Principles of Psychology which
was published in 1890. A students of literature in general are familiar with this work
because it is this work which for the first time had also mentioned the phrase stream of
William James had originally documented the association of eye movements with the
thought processes and he had described in principles of psychology that merely thinking
about a visual image caused if fluctuating play of pressures, convergences, divergences
and accommodations in eyeballs. However, this idea had remained dormant till 1970s.
The video which we would play right now encapsulates the basic findings of NLP as far
as eye contact is concerned.
We hold different pieces of information in different parts of our brain and usually when
we are thinking about a particular type of information our eyes will go in one particular
direction. Ask most people about a memory that they can visually recall in their brain
and it may be a childhood memory, when they were playing in the part of friends they
will look up and to the left as they recall that memory. But if you ask people about linear
things like data statistics ask them to add up numbers they will quite often look up and to
People when they are being emotional upset the feeling channel is down here and to the
right whereas, we quite often see people when they are talking to themselves, they will
look down and to the left as they formulate an answer to something. There is also
horizontal which is your audio channel. If you are at home late at night 3 O clock in the
morning and you hear a noise outside.
If it’s the cats playing around with bins or something that you know the sound of you are
quite often look to the side to the left because this is your recall site its a sound you
understand then you know; however, if its a sound you do not understand and you do not
know you look to the right and try and work out what.
So, with this we end our discussion of oculesics; however, later on when we will look at
the clustering of different types of kinesics signals, we would be referring to some gazes
Log in to save your progress and obtain a certificate in Alison’s free Diploma in Body Language for Professional Success online course
Sign up to save your progress and obtain a certificate in Alison’s free Diploma in Body Language for Professional Success online course
Please enter you email address and we will mail you a link to reset your password.