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I have trouble making eye contact. When having a discussion or interview, I need to concentrate on my thoughts and words. I can listen while making eye contact but when I'm formulating an answer or thinking, eye contact distracts me and I usually stare away at the wall. Part of this is my reading into the other’s facial expressions. This is the case even when speaking with friends. Now, I've heard that you must make eye contact when interacting, especially, when speaking. What should I do?

WillDuke's picture

I know what you mean. I have poor vision. I have to concentrate to see clearly.

If I have formulated my answers and done my thinking ahead of time (preparation) then I am more able to make eye contact during the interview.

TomW's picture

When you don't look someone in the eye, here's what can happen: it can be perceived as dishonest or disingenuine. It can seem like you are distracted or not prepared.

I would recommend doing your best to think over your answer first (when you are looking away), then deliver it while making as much eye contact as you can. That's not boring into their eyes, just making sure you look at them for a few seconds. Sometimes if I'm having a hard time looking at someone (for whatever reason), I try looking at the spot on their nose between their eyes. It's really close and can soften the impact of looking straight into their eyes.

Like other skills, it's something you can practice with a friend or spouse so you can improve upon it.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Tom's feedback is spot on (no pun intended). Also, if you can't look at the spot between their eyes, you can look at their eyebrows. Most people can't tell the difference between being looked in the eyes and being looked in the eyebrow.

I have used an exercise when teaching some students that you may find helpful (altho you need five or six people to do it). Everyone is standing and one person has to tell a story for about 4-5 minutes. Everyone except the story teller puts their hands over their heads. The person telling the story has to make eye contact with each person in the group as he/she tells the story. As soon as eye contact is broken, the group members start lowering their arms until eye contact is restored. If any member of the group's arms go down, your turn is over and you learn that you were not successful at making regular eye contact. Everyone in the group takes a turn.

*RNTT

Peter.westley's picture

Edmund,

I know how you feel - I have the same problem. I have felt that maybe my audience thinks I have something to hide when I don't look at them. No matter how prepared I am beforehand I still find myself looking away to formulate thoughts and answers.

I have found the key is to make eye contact while actually speaking. Don't be afraid of taking a moment to look away and think and then bring eye contact back while speaking.

I really like *RNTT's game of the lowering hands - I could visualise this happening with people I'm talking to and use it to help maintain a balanced eye contact with each person. Great idea!

James Gutherson's picture

[quote="Peter.Westley"]

I have found the key is to make eye contact while actually speaking. Don't be afraid of taking a moment to look away and think and then bring eye contact back while speaking.

[/quote]

Exactly - make sure you look at them while they are speaking to you, then look away while you formulate your answer - it might feel like an hour to you but they will hardly notice - then reengage them while you are responding. Shift your focus between people if there are others in the room and take the time while you are shifting focus to relax.

vinnie2k's picture

[quote="TomW"]
I would recommend doing your best to think over your answer first (when you are looking away), then deliver it while making as much eye contact as you can. That's not boring into their eyes, just making sure you look at them for a few seconds. Sometimes if I'm having a hard time looking at someone (for whatever reason), I try looking at the spot on their nose between their eyes. It's really close and can soften the impact of looking straight into their eyes.

Like other skills, it's something you can practice with a friend or spouse so you can improve upon it.[/quote]
Practice, practice, practice. 5 minutes a day. How about using a camera? Trying talking to the camera, it's much harder than looking at an actual person. After practicing with a camera, you will probably find it easier to look people in the eye while delivering some great feedback or achievement of yours :-)

wendii's picture

Edmund,

just a note of reassurance to add to the other great advice you've gotten. When I've asked an interview question, if the interviewee doesn't jump in straight away, I generally look away.

Sometimes, it does take a few seconds to formulate a good answer, and I don't like to pressure the candidate by staring at them during that time. I find something really important to write down, and if they havn't started talking by the time I've finished underlining, I help them with the question.

You can also give a 'holding answer'. 'Good question' is common but really irritates me! 'I need to find a good example for that' or Could I just think for a moment' are good. Then I know you're thinking not just ignoring me!

Hope that's useful.

Wendii

Mark's picture

Practice. Set a goal of maintaining eye contact during your first sentence when you talk. After you've met that 80% of the time, shoot for eye contact during the first TWO sentences.

This is how we all overcome areas needing improvement: practice doing it.

Don't worry about failing....just try again next conversation. You'll get better.

And it really is worth it. It will make a difference.

Mark