What are the Components of Eye Contact?
Making eye contact is more than just doing a staring contest. It sets the ‘tone’ to the conversation and can effectively control the flow of the interaction.
To see how we can affect it, let’s start by breaking down the essential components of eye contact:
- We have the length of the gaze
- The position of our head and our facial expression
- The ‘thing’ or area we look at
- And the size of the pupils discussed the length of gaze and the eye pupil size in a different post.
Naturally, our facial expression and head posture affect the message we send with our eyes. Making eye contact with your head bowed, for example, usually will send a message of respect and recognition.
We are left with the last component – “Where to look?” – A trivial, yet sometimes challenging question. You might say – “just look in them in the eyes” or “look at the face”.
But it’s only half of the answer because we focus our gaze on a singular spot which is smaller than the size of the face or both eyes.
Let’s see how controlling our gaze can answer this question:
The Triangles of Eye Contact
What makes eye contact too intimidating or discomforting?
Do you know the “Clint Eastwood stare”? – An unflinching, unmoving stare with squinting eyes, it’s like as if he’s saying “who do you think you are, punk?” .
As we don’t live in the Wild West anymore (or at least pretend not to) we usually need to avoid this kind of behavior if wish to have more than just western movies dialogs.
I mentioned that the size of our focus point is usually smaller than the size of the thing we look at. This means that we usually ‘travel’ with our eyes on the surface of the thing we see. It’s happening so smoothly and fast that we don’t even notice it, but it happens all the same.
When you look at a photograph or a painting, for example, pay attention to what you see first and how your eyes spot the different elements of that picture.
Good picture will often make you spot things you didn’t see at first and create sort of visual story.
So when making eye contact, we ‘travel’ with our eyes upon the face of whom we talk to. This travel has a certain pattern and it is called gaze behavior.
There are 3 main ways to do it:
- Each forms a triangle between both eyes and additional spot on their face or body.
- Each behavior sends its own unique subtext:
The Social Gaze
The triangle here is between both eyes and the nose or the mouth.
This is one of the easiest and common eye gazes you use and meet, assuming you live in a relatively friendly environment
You use this gaze in a friendly, neutral interaction. Just keep ‘traveling’ with your gaze between their eyes and their mouth, as if you can “hear” with your eyes what they say.
This is the gaze to go if you wish to establish rapport, combined with nodding occasionally and smiling it’s a great way to show approval and friendly attitude.
If you’re known for being cold and not very friendly person maybe you use too much the…
The Power Gaze (aka Business Gaze)
The triangle we talk about here is between both eyes and the forehead.
It’s called the business gaze because it means business….This is the serious look, more akin to the Clint Eastwood stare I talked about earlier.
Use it in serious situations.
If you’re mad at someone, for example, your message will be that much stronger if you gaze at him with this chilling look.
At my work, as an instructor who works with kids, I use it when I need to have a “serious” talk with one of the kids. It’s important to me that he’ll understand it’s no game and I’m not joking about what I say.
It’s called also the power gaze because it’s quite a disturbing gaze – If you’re the listener, for example, you can really freeze someone’s speech this way – the subtext is “get to the point” and “don’t waste my time”.
Needless to say, you won’t leave an amiable impression if you use this kind of eye contact in regular social encounters.
‘Checking Out’ Intimate Gaze
AKA “stop staring at my breasts gaze”.
The triangle we talk about here is between both eyes and a spot below – to the chest or genital area.
Naturally, we use this eye contact when we’re sexually interested in the other party. It’s the “check out gaze” – we want to enjoy the sights, not just the conversation.
Man generally accused of this staring, but is it an exclusive behavior?
It’s time to redeem our reputation guys… Girls do it too, and a lot, only they’re more subtle about it. Studies suggest that the difference is really in our point of view… Men have a ‘tunnel vision’ – a vision that is more focused and specific, while women have a better sense of periphery.
What you get is that: if a man will usually prefer to look at something to ‘really’ see it, the woman can spot it in her peripheral vision without actually staring at it.
The result: we men just caught much more.If a woman does “check you out” openly – it’s a sign that she wants you to see it, she’s interested and she wants you to know it.
Sadly, we often miss these signs, so girls – you need to try harder, guys – pay more attention.