How to be comfortable with mindful eye contact

In last week’s post we talked about discovering more about how mindful eye contact contributes to your wellbeing. However, it is understood that not everyone is comfortable with making eye contact with another person. It is not only strangers who find it difficult to look someone in the eye, some also find it challenging to meet the eyes of someone they know. Today, we explore a couple of tools you can practise to help overcome the fear of eye contact.

The comfort point of making eye contact comes down to seconds, three seconds in fact. Staring at someone for longer can become awkward and uncomfortable. But it was not always this way.

As a baby, eye contact was your way of making a connection with your parents. It was a form of recognition of who was who. It was also your way of communicating before you could master speech or sound. As a baby, you learned that eye contact was a good thing and you grew comfortable – and curious – with the human gaze,

Something happened as you grew into an adult and you no longer saw eye contact as comfortable. You were okay with the occasional eye roll between friends, but a locked gaze became uncomfortable. You became self conscious. It felt intense. It felt like you were being confronted.

While a baby uses eye contact to build a bond with its parents; eye contact as an adult is a signal from one person to let another know of their availability and/or intention for communication.

So, how do you become comfortable in being uncomfortable?

Be mindful of each situation and use your judgement. In friendly encounters eye contact builds trust, however in challenging encounters it may appear domineering.

Be mindful of the signals you receive from others. Acknowledge that prolonged eye gazing, or even eye contact in general, is considered disrespectful in some cultures.  Watch for subtle cues from your recipient and take your lead from them.

Looking down indicates to your recipient you have finished talking. If you pause to think, instead glance to the side while still maintaining eye contact. This way the other person knows you have more to say.

If maintaining eye contact is difficult, try looking at the point in between their eyes. This is less awkward and you are still looking at the other person.  You may also try looking around the eyes. For example, look at the left eye for three seconds, then the right for three seconds and then the mouth for three seconds. Then rotate while using your active listening skills during the conversation.

Getting comfortable with eye contact does take time but with practise you can hone your skills until it becomes natural. Practise looking in the mirror and be comfortable with making eye contact with yourself each day as you get ready for the day. You can then move on to practising on family and friends.

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