It’s always interesting to observe some of the things that people do that they don’t realize they do. Subtle, and not-so-subtle, nuances in body language are sometimes more revealing than what they say. I talked with a fellow today who spent most of our hour-long conversation with his eyes closed. What it looked like, from my perspective, were a series of really long blinks. His head would drop a fraction of an inch, his eyelids would droop, and there they would stay as he uttered two or three sentences. Then, his head would pop back up, and his eyelids would flutter open. It was really quite distracting, yet I couldn’t help but be amused. It was clearly a long-term conversational habit, one that prevented him from ever really making eye contact.
It’s really quite interesting how few people are able to maintain eye contact in face-to-face dialogue. It’s a phenomenom that I try to constantly be aware of, especially in myself, because I know that I often find it difficult and uncomfortable to maintain eye contact for long periods of time. Eye contact is actually a very intimate form of communicate. Everyone has heard the expression, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” This may be a good explanation as to why so many of us find it hard to develop good eye contact in our discussions with other people. We don’t like revealing ourselves that way, or we don’t want to send the wrong signals (easy enough to do in a culture that is already very sexually charged), or both. Yet, I think maintaining good eye contact is actually a critical characteristic of good communication. It conveys a certain level of trust in the other person because you are, in essence, saying, I am opening myself up to you and I am trusting you to not take advantage of that. It can help make the discussion more comfortable (even for uncomfortable topics) and encourage greater openness and honesty. So, good eye contact is a skill that I strive for and encourage in others. It is amazing how much of an impact a little bit of body language has on verbal dialogue.