This is such an easy & hard thing to do. There’s a bunch of stuff distracting us at any turn, so sitting still and focusing on another person has kind of become a rarity in social life. It’s not an automatic trait that people are just bestowed though. This is a learned practice for most of us. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve had a tough time with this, just keep trying.
In ten minutes of conversation at a coffee shop, instead of looking at the other person and maintaining eye contact you might:
- Check your Facebook notifications.
- Respond to that funny comment.
- Skim that email that just popped up.
- Check in on your text messages.
- Who just tweeted at me?
- Look over at the loud distracting person talking on their Bluetooth device in the corner.
- Watch someone stuffing their face with a pastry.
- Look into blank space and daydream.
- On and on and on…
You might also have a laundry list of reasons as to why you aren’t maintaining eye contact, including:
- You’re afraid you’ll come off as intense.
- It’s weird to stare.
- You feel embarrassed.
- You have to look off in other directions when considering information.
- It’s intimidating to have prolonged eye contact with another person.
- It feels vulnerable.
- You’re unsure of what to say, so you need to look away and process your thoughts as you’re speaking.
- You don’t want to.
However, if you just try it you might find it makes your conversation much more enriching and enjoyable. You might do it more often. These things might happen, but only if you try it repeatedly in your interactions. It’s not comfortable at first, it’s challenging, and it takes diligence. But, if you achieve this conversational tool and you overcome your fears, just imagine how awesome you will end up feeling about yourself.
For me it enables me to focus on the other persons words and ideas, and I don’t drift off thinking about how I will respond. Instead, I just respond to what I am given, and I don’t latch onto my conversational agenda. When I do that, I’m not present, I’m not focused, and I’m not really paying attention.
I find myself in conversations like these, if not multiple times a day, at least multiple times per week. Many times, I catch my gaze drifting off while speaking and listening. Invariably, when this happens, I feel like I sort of miss the mark on what that conversation item is presently about. Then you give yourself a few options:
- Make up a response you think (read hope) will make sense.
- Nod or make some type of noise of acknowledgement, like:
- Or the dreaded: Asking the other person to repeat themselves. That never feels good.
In any of these cases, you’re taking a gamble at coming off as rude, flighty, inattentive (rude), dumb, or just socially awkward. So, why take the chance in the first place? Just give yourself a better chance to come off as the awesome person you are, and make consistent eye contact.
I’m still not perfect at this…hence making it a rule. It came about over coffee. I was talking with my friend Taft Mashburn the other day having coffee outside at Cenote. The other day meaning back in September or October. We were there to hang out, talk about some music stuff, and just generally catch up on things. I’m just trying to paint a picture to say this wasn’t a formal business meeting, it was mostly a friend hangout and I was asking for some advice.
I had already been working on doing this whole eye contact in regular conversation thing. I’ve gotten pretty good at the listening part, but I found it so strange when I actually had to talk. It was especially challenging when I had to figure out an answer to a tough question. While I was talking I would look around, look down, look at my hands, and occasionally look him directly in the face. Maybe it was a lack of confidence in the moment, maybe it was just the way I’ve gotten used to talking about things, either way it bothered the shit out of me.
Is this a lot to think about while also holding an engaging conversation? Sure. But, the more you practice the more it becomes second nature. And, with practice, you’ll find yourself genuinely listening and responding more without much effort. Additionally, while you’re working on the habit, people perceive you as a better listener because you are keeping their gaze engaged and you’re portraying focus.
Here’s an easy gauge: If you don’t know the color of the person’s eyes when the conversation is through, then you’re definitely not engaging quite enough in being present in the convo.
#convo #politeness #rulestoliveby #ruleadayblog