You've probably heard that what you say isn't as important as what you don’t say.
One of the strongest nonverbal communication tools you have is eye contact-- and you've probably also heard you can never give too much. But according to a recent post in PsyBlog, eye contact is a complex social interaction--and there is a balancing act that depends on the context of the situation.
First, what's the norm? The PsyBlog post lays out a few basics:
People usually make more direct eye contact when talking one-to-one than in groups. In groups people tend to look directly at another person for about 3-5 seconds, but when it's one-to-one this increases to 7-10 seconds before they glance away.
There's also the percentage of time spent looking at someone, compared with looking away from them. Using self-tracking technologies, it seems the normal amount is anything between 30% to 60%. It will generally be more when you are listening and less when you are talking.
So, then how do others interpret strong eye contact?
Extended periods of eye contact can be perceived as signs of greater confidence and higher self esteem, reports PsyBlog:
Westerners usually see those who make more eye contact as confident (as long as it's not the creepy variety). They also tend to associate greater eye contact with stronger leadership abilities, greater aggression and strength (Brooks et al., 19785). On top of that, they're seen as less anxious and more intelligent.
If you hold eye contact with those you are talking to, they might find what you are saying more compelling.
The PsyBlog post states there is "a whole raft of research shows the persuasive power of looking into someone's eyes when making a request for compliance."
Unfortunately, there are mixed reviews on eye contact and how it reflects honesty.
Liars might be more likely to make more eye contact-- as a liar might be monitoring your reaction to his or her lie, according to the study.
Another thing to consider: culture. While Westerners love heavy eye contact, some Asian cultures see eye contact as disrespectful, according to the post.