Sitting at the tables outside of the Starbucks at the Henry Madden Library, we have all experienced a strange phenomenon.
Working on laptops and homework, the occasional glance up from a screen to meet someone else’s gaze, and we quickly turn back to what we were doing.
This awkward and uncomfortable meeting of the eyes is just that phenomenon.
When you walk down the street past someone and your eyes meet, especially if you do not know the person, you feel a sense of awkwardness.
Eye contact is something that is feared, and oftentimes avoided, due to the weird way it makes us feel.
For as often as it occurs, why does it make us feel uncomfortable when we glimpse into another person’s eyes?
For centuries, eye contact has been seen as a form in intimacy and romance. When you look into someone’s eyes, that may mean you have some sort of an interest in them. According to primermagazine.com, making eye contact with someone establishes a type of personal relationship with the person you are speaking with.
This also makes the person who initiates and is able to hold the eye contact the more powerful person in the conversation.
When we do lock eyes with someone across the room, we do not necessarily have the desire to get to know them or even speak with them. It is just a random occurrence, and we look away immediately.
Eye contact avoidance is key in keeping to ourselves and maintaining our privacy.
However uncomfortable we may feel when looking into the eyes of a stranger, there is another aspect of eye contact that is incredibly helpful and essential.
When we meet people for the first time, it is crucial that we shake hands, introduce ourselves, all while looking them in the eyes.
Without the element of eye contact, conversations can be meaningless and impersonal. Face-to-face interactions require eye contact because in the American culture, it is seen as rude otherwise.
However, when using eye contact, if you stare straight at someone, it can be perceived as threatening.
A lack of eye contact when speaking has the connotation of not being honest.
Primermagazine.com also notes that this is why we have the saying, “Look me in the eyes and say that,” because it is more difficult to lie to someone while you are looking at that person directly in the eyes.
Although in our culture a lack of eye contact is seen as rude, other cultures see the aversion of the eyes as a sign of respect.
In a study done by a Berkeley professor, he found that Latin Americans make more eye contact when they speak, and it is a key point in their personal interactions.
In contrast, many Asian cultures, such as the Japanese, do not make eye contact when speaking to their superiors as a sign of respect.
The study also noted that children have a better chance of learning something when eye contact is present.
Whenever eye contact is initiated, people have a better chance of listening more intently to what is being said, and flirting is also better received.
Eye contact is very underrated in today’s society. People who do not utilize it are missing out on two very important things, awareness and confidence, according to primermagazine.com.
It also offered tips on how to use eye contact efficiently, because it has become so underrated.
It noted to remember that eye contact is not staring, and not to lock eyes with the person you’re speaking with because it will be threatening.
Effective eye contact can help you in a variety of ways. It shows you have a more personal interest in the conversation and can make you a better listener. Making eye contact shouldn’t be an awkward experience or make us feel uncomfortable.
If we just all practice the tips for better interpersonal communication, then it will be a much easier thing to deal with when it occurs unexpectedly.
And next time, instead of instantly looking the other way when we meet someone’s gaze, we can give them a smile instead of an uncomfortable shudder.