What Your Eye Contact Says About YouPosted: June 21, 2011
As the famous proverb goes, the eyes are the window to the soul. We feel the truth in this statement whenever we look into the eyes of another and emotionally connect to their passions, intentions, loves and fears. There is a sense of exposure when we gaze into the eyes of another, as if we are standing naked in front of them, confronted with our vulnerability. Like the picture that says a thousand words, our eyes are able to express our entire emotional palate and reveal our true inner state.
In a world full of disconnected and non-confrontational means of communication, the ability to hold strong eye contact with another person is one of the most important and yet overlooked social skills. This is tragic as it is the most powerful of all our nonverbal communication elements (which make up more than half of the messages we are sending) and how most people reveal their attraction towards one another. Here we’ll explore a three-part discussion on eye contact, specifically how it is used in our everyday interpersonal interactions, in creating attraction, and in developing greater intimacy with your partner.
Our ability to convey messages with our eyes originally developed as part of our pre-linguistic communication skill set. Most animals aptly read the subtle facial cues of other animals as a way of understanding their emotional state. This is highly practical for their own survival, enabling them to determine threats and danger, communicate their needs to parents or others in the social group, as well as ascertaining mating possibilities. All these skills were used daily by our ancient ancestors, as language is believed to have developed no more than 100,000 years ago. Although language is our primary communication technology, those older skills are still hardwired in our programming whether we use them consciously or not, and are still very reliable indicators of another’s state of mind.
Strong eye contact is not only a skill to emotionally connect with other human beings, but also a direct revelation of your own inner state and confidence. The less confident you feel, the less likely you will feel comfortable making direct eye contact with someone. This is because subconsciously you do not feel safe being exposed, so you will naturally avert your gaze to prevent someone from discovering your internal vulnerabilities. Much of this lack of confidence has to do with our perceived need for safety. Most of us have been programmed since birth that strangers are dangerous and not to be trusted, but due to the nature of society we often find ourselves in social situations involving new people where we are expected to override these firmly engrained beliefs. Despite our best intentions technically they still are “strangers” and we default to our old programming, avoiding direct eye contact whenever possible. This is unfortunate since confidence is a prime attractive trait in both sexes. By not holding direct eye contact you are telling everyone that you are not confident, trustworthy and secure in your own skin, which is far from sexy. The result is fewer dates, fewer friends, fewer career opportunities and less income over a lifetime…all things that confident people have more of than those who are not.
Eye contact powerfully conveys dominance as well as confidence. To see this in action, look no further than The Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. Whenever two animals (humans included) make strong, direct eye contact they are essentially sizing each other up, and if one of them doesn’t break their gaze one of two things will happen: fighting or mating. When the scenario involves two males, if one does not submit to the other a fight will break out to determine which animal is dominant. The stakes of these fights are high, since the reward of dominance includes access to food and mates. When the two animals are male and female (presumably of the same species…get your mind out of the gutter!), the direct result of dominance is mating. If a female is uncertain about a male’s worth a fight will still occur, and provided the male can show his dominance the female will submit and they will have sex. While our mating protocol is not quite as simple as this (despite most men’s wishes), the basic structure is the same: a woman must recognize your confidence and dominance before sex can occur. (More on that in part 2.)
Now that I have made the case for strong, confident eye contact, how do you go about becoming comfortable with it? The following exercise will certainly help. My first experience with this exercise had a profound effect on my self-confidence and perceptions of human nature. It was an epiphany, as I realized most people are insecure about making direct eye contact with strangers, and when you have comfort in that ability it has powerful effect. If done in the right way you literally have the ability to make both of you feel better through the experience. Try it out. I think you will be surprised by the results.
Prolonged Eye Contact Exercise:
Go to a place with a lot of foot-traffic like a busy public street, mall or park or that you can walk through. (The more benign the environment the better.) As you walk through look up at everyone you pass, making direct eye contact if possible. Do not exaggerate the eye contact or go out of your way to make it, but rather simply look into everyone’s eyes with a calm and casual demeanor without breaking the contact. This may be more difficult than you imagine, as there will be a strong urge to release the intensity and break contact. Do this with everyone you see: men, old ladies, children, dogs, and of course attractive women.
Be sure you are not staring anyone down with a creepy, stalker vibe (especially with the children as that can freak them out and get you in trouble!) The way to assure this is to be breathing deeply and maintain your awareness to your breath. Also key is to make sure all your facial muscles are relaxed, especially the jaw muscle. The jaw muscle, technically named the masseter, is not only the strongest muscle in your body but it also reflects your emotional state. A person with a tight jaw will come off as creepy or intense. The easiest way to avoid a tightened jaw is to hold your mouth slightly agape so that your upper and lower teeth are not touching and breathe deeply. It takes a concentrated effort to hold the mouth open and simultaneously keep the jaw tight, so with your mouth slightly open you should achieve a naturally relaxed expression.
So what will happen as you are gently looking into everyone’s soul? Well that depends upon the other persons self-image and state of mind. You will get a few different reactions:
1) They will look away quickly as to hide themselves from being seen. This is usually a person who has a lower self-image and wants to move throughout the world avoiding any sort of commotion or conflict. They are basically submitting to you and your confidence. Those that have the lowest self-image will break eye contact by looking down rather than to the side. (Never do this…ever!!!)
2) They will dismiss the interaction as unimportant. This action can look similar to the previous, but the key difference is that it is not coming from a place of submissiveness. There is usually slightly longer contact followed by a release, looking away to the side. It is not a knee jerk reaction based in fear but rather a more intentional release: “I saw that, but it doesn’t really interest me.” This is not necessarily rude or disrespectful but rather simply our brain’s process of filtering out information in our overly stimulating world and avoiding having to assess and interact with strangers.
A more discreet variety of this is the instant dismissal. It looks similar to the quick look away in speed, but feels distinctively different because it saying “I don’t want to deal with this” rather than “I’m feeling insecure”. The person dismissing quickly averts their gaze straight ahead or to the side, rather than by looking down. Women, especially women accustomed to getting looked at, frequently use this tactic. These women realize they cannot possibly interact with every man that shows interest in them (or feel they can’t because of their relationship status), so they must dismiss him to avoid further engagement. This is both a time management tool as well as a way to filter out less-worthy men who won’t have the courage to push forward further. (Don’t hold it against them…if you were a woman you’d do the same thing to avoid the gaggle of guys vying for your attention.)
3) They will hold your gaze. They are willing to engage you in this non-verbal conversation and will look right back at you. How long they hold it will depend on their level of comfort with the interaction. Eventually the pressure to disengage will continue to escalate until one of you surrenders to the intensity. Your goal here is to not be the one who caves. Occasionally you will come across someone who will also refuse to break contact. Here interaction becomes a game of dominance, eliciting those evolutionary hardwired behaviors out of you both.
If you are engaging another man, prolonged eye contact feels very aggressive. In order to relieve this aggressive tension crack a smile, nod and say “how’s it going?” Once you do that they will engage you back in a friendly way, recognizing that you are like them…another confident alpha man. You have basically earned their respect in the moment.
If you are engaging a woman, her prolonged eye contact is either a test of your dominance (“Is he really that confident?”), or she is already enamored enough with you to show her interest by maintaining the gaze. The important thing is to not the break eye contact first in either case. Instead you can ease up the intensity and make her more comfortable with a sly smile, but if you release your gaze first you just communicated to her you are either not interested in her or are not confident enough to handle her. Of course the corollary of maintaining the eye contact is that you have just showed her you are that alpha man that is confident enough to handle her. She’ll let you know you passed her test by opening up to you and smiling. The hard work is now done and she’s hoping to connect with you more, so by all means say hello and see what happens!
Next time we’ll further discuss using eye contact as a means of sparking and building attraction. Until then get out there and start speaking with your eyes. Be sure to let me know what you discover. At best it has the potential to change your life!
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