Service of Eye Contact: 60% of the Time Has Impact

July 25th, 2013

Categories: Communications, Eye Contact, Face to Face


A client’s first radio interview took place at a tiny station without an engineer so after saying “hello, have a seat,” the host/acting engineer apologized, turned her back on my client and conducted the interview without once turning around to face her because she was also operating the equipment behind the desk. That was an unnerving and extreme example of no eye contact.

Who thinks much about eye contact unless someone exhibits unusual behavior? A former client had the attention span of a gnat that his roving eye gave away. I never met with him unless I could spit out my question or comment in few words as his eye would soon wander to others in a room filled with people. If we met in his office he’d be distracted by whomever was walking down the hall.

We worked together long before smartphones and “FOMO” that Sue Shellenbarger described in “Just Look Me in the Eye Already,” in The Wall Street Journal or he, too, might have been diagnosed with Fear of Missing Out, one of the reasons people are glued to their phones. Staring so long at a device makes it uncomfortable for some to look at another human, much less in the eye.

Quoting Quantified Impressions she noted people should make eye contact 60 to 70 percent of the time, but that on average adults do so from 30 to 60 percent.

See eye to eye 3“Yet eye contact can be a tool for influencing others. Looking at a colleague when speaking conveys confidence and respect. Prolonged eye contact during a debate or disagreement can signal you’re standing your ground. It also points to your place on the food chain: People who are high-status tend to look longer at people they’re talking to, compared with others, says a 2009 research review in Image and Vision Computing.”

Wrote Shellenbarger quoting Ben Decker of Decker Communications: “People who avert their gaze too soon, or avoid eye contact altogether, are often seen as ‘untrustworthy, unknowledgeable and nervous.'” Decker also remarked that “Too much eye contact can cause problems, too. At work, holding eye contact for more than 10 seconds can seem aggressive, empty or inauthentic.”

In captions the writer describes “The Table Talker,” “The Laser Gazer,” “The Drifter” and “The Faker” and what impressions others get from each,

Have you been flummoxed by awkward or nonexistent eye contact? Does it ever occur to you that a person may have vision issues? Do you think a parent or guardian teaches, “Look Mrs. X in the eye when you shake her hand,” or is it something humans pick up naturally by imitating others?

See Eye to Eye




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11 Responses to “Service of Eye Contact: 60% of the Time Has Impact”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    For me, direct eye contact is IT! No excuses and no substitutes….That’s the final arbiter, no discussion needed.

    Of course, being a visual artist, that’s not surprising!!!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    As I wrote this post I thought of a few people I know with unusual eye contact I didn’t mention in the post. When on video or when speaking in public one person squints, which I think is a question of being able to see more clearly–nothing else.

    A newsmaker may be seen in profile during an entire interview because he/she is facing the reporter and there’s only one camera that seemingly doesn’t move. Sometimes I’ll say to the face on screen: “Turn around! I’m over here!”

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    There is a very simple remedy to eye intimidation – stare back, and be willing to invest the time to wait until the attacker backs down. Costs nothing, earns respect and is well worth the effort. Best of all, it makes one bully not try that again, with you. It may also make him/her think twice before trying it on others.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Don’t you think that it’s equally unsettling if the person you are speaking with doesn’t look at you at all?

    I didn’t mention eye-rolling which is an annoying–even rude–type of eye communication. It’s quiet but says it all.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    There’s nothing to get unsettled over. Such action says nothing about you. This is probably an attempt to manipulate and/or to bully, so walk off.

  6. Simon Carr Said:

    In some cultures, you can offend by looking at someone too long in the eye. Polite men certainly don’t look women in the eye in the Middle East, but they may look men in the eye.

    I vividly remember when, years ago, I called on a fierce, well built, dark, bearded man, 6′ 4″, in his forties in the Persian Gulf. Everyone told me to stay away from him because he was a pirate, from a long line of bloody pirates who had made their fortune capturing ships and murdering their crews in the Indian ocean. He supposedly spoke no English, and I certainly did not speak his language.

    Trying to converse, to make “nice, nice” through an interpreter, I glommed my eyes on his beady black eyes, and he stared piercingly back. He knew all about the Western custom of looking people in the eye. Contrary to protocol and polite usage, neither of us wanted to blink first, but I suddenly noticed a slight twinkle creep into his. I couldn’t help but smile a little and decided to do business with him. He had a sense of the absurd.

    We cut back our relationship with his principal competitor, an affiliate of Bank of America, and, although the pirate’s books were really “cooked” and no one on his staff was exactly a saint, we started working together. Ten years later, when I last saw him, the relationship was still going strong, and we had no need to play “eye” games.

    There is more to the story. In retirement, a few days after 9-11, I flew to London for a week to answer questions as a fact witness in legal proceedings involving the bankruptcy of the Bank of America affiliate, which had cost its creditors, including her majesty’s government, hundreds of millions of dollars.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    What a story, Simon!

    You have some instinct. And you saved your employer a pile of money by moving away from the failed affiliate.

    I used to think that eyes said a lot about a person until I worked with an intern who had the dullest expression in his eyes making me think he was a dud. Surprise! He turned out to be brilliant and a lot of fun.

    I also discovered that my husband’s eyes may appear happy but his eyes don’t reveal how he’s feeling. Check out his mouth. Dancing eyes and straight [angry] mouth on returning home from an event means he didn’t have that great a time.

  8. RC-F Said:

    This is a fascinating topic, especially for teachers.

    I have learned that cultural differences make eye contact mean very different things. It can mean an insolent youngster staring back at an authority figure. It can mean challenging the adult you are looking at, it can mean putting yourself on the same footing as the authority figure…

    I had a student who would not look at me, or respond to my questions. When I asked her if she needed assistance or if she understood what I had said, she would mumble into her lap. I grew very concerned about her, and went to another teacher, an African American who had taught for many years. She was of mixed racial heritage. He explained that she could not look at me, could not express concern, confusion or ask a question because it was considered rude, you might get slapped in her culture if you did that, or worse. So I learned to talk to her without looking at her. I would look into the air just past her head, and she, I believe, did the same. We established communications that way, and with time, she relaxed and was able to learn and inquire and become proud of her learning.

    I have learned never to ask a student to look me in the eye.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I admire teachers for so many things–patience is only one characteristic on a long list as often so much needs to happen before learning begins. You beautifully described one instance that you elegantly addressed. What satisfaction you must feel.

    When someone looks me in the eye with an expression that my mother used to describe as: “Here’s the chip on my shoulder; just try and knock it off,” or with an insolent look in a situation in which responding in kind isn’t an option–such as for a teacher–response is a challenge.

  10. Martha Takayama Said:

    Eye contact can have varying degrees of impact on a variety of situations not just ones related to employment.

    There are certain cultural variances in what is considered polite or not.

    Eye contact also has broad social and even amorous implications, all of which vary according to regional and cultural norms.

    However, for practical reasons it’s reassuring to obtain, through eye contact, some sense of whether or how what you are expressing is being heard or received. Certainly teacher or interviewers can find it a useful tool of measurement of attention, comprehension, interest, and even respect. In everyday living eye contact can facilitate pleasant exchange or intimidate or deter if necessary. It can also be derisive.

    It is difficult to know what part of eye contact is the result of guidance, parental, academic, coaching etc., and what is natural. However, it is important to take into consideration any indication of visual limitations in any encounter, and to base judgment of a person or an episode on multiple factors, not just eye contact or lack thereof.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree it’s important not to base judgment on eye contact or lack of same, but my bet is in a job interview or the first time potential couples meet–introduced via or the like–it can make or break a future.

    We have a friend whose expression–wrinkled forehead along with questioning eyes–are huge clues he’s not getting what we’re saying or asking.

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