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I was talking casually with a coworker a while back who mentioned that I'm bad at making eye contact. I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought it was perfectly normal to not look at people when talking to them. Staring people down weirded me out. I even tried to look at him while he was talking to me, and it felt too awkward.

But he was a well-liked sort of guy, so I thought about it, and started looking at people more while talking to them... or at least trying. But it still felt weird. And the thing was, they never seemed uncomfortable. I was always the one breaking eye contact first, because I had to. It started to make me think this eye contact thing really was more normal than I thought it was.

At this conference I went to this month, we talked a lot about connecting to people and how your coworker's won't bring their good ideas to the table if they don't feel listened to. We did this exercise where we paired off and told a partner eight things about ourselves, but at item four they were supposed to tune out. Look off into space, check their text messages, whatever. And it was surprisingly impossible to communicate. You'd try to go on autopilot and just keep saying the right words, but it was tougher than it sounded.

Since then I keep talking about eye contact with people and a weird number of them say that I should indeed work on the eye contact thing. The husband said I was good at making eye contact with him, but he noticed that I'm not like that with other people. humaazul even went so far as to state her theory that a disproportionate number of engineers have some form of asperger syndrome.

So I'm not totally sure what to work on, but I have noticed that when I make eye contact, other people make it too, and seem cooler about it than I do.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 19th, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)
"Even went so far as to. . . " I stand by it. I think it's true. I don't think you have it, though.

It's hard to make eye contact. I used to be huge on it. Then, my dumbass boss used to tell me that I should work on having "softer eyes." She also tried to get me super drunk on a business trip.
Mar. 19th, 2008 02:10 am (UTC)
People love eye contact. Looking away when talking to someone is definitey a nerd thing. I've gotten compliments (usually from girls) about how I always look people in the eye when I talk to them.
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:16 am (UTC)
It is difficult to look people in the eye, but I must admit that it freaks me out when I talk to people and they don't maintain eye contact.

Now staring the person down, not so good. Not blinking while making eye contact, also kind of freaky. You want the relaxed "I'm paying attention to you" kind of look. I also have to work on this somewhat - I'm okay when public speaking - moving from person to person, trying to connect with them and see how they're doing.

One tip that I learned is that if you're speaking with one other person, if you focus on one eye, it's easier because otherwise you tend to shift from one eye to the other (which if you're being filmed makes you look really shifty).
Mar. 19th, 2008 03:55 am (UTC)
I have trouble with that. People tend to think I'm spacy because I tend to look around a lot during conversation...

I can only make eye contact with people I'm super comfortable with, like my boyfriend and such...

I tend to kinda look at people's heads in general if I feel like I need to convey that I'm paying attention...

I've got a lot of other social quirks too. But I don' think I have aspergers. I'm just quirky.
Mar. 19th, 2008 08:13 am (UTC)
People have said the same kind of thing to me, too. I don't mind it in an intimate situation, but in multi-person social situations it just feels weird to lock your eyes with someone else for any length of time.

I avoid the problem in social situations by looking at people's mouths instead. In loud places I pretty much have to lip read anyway, so it all works out.
Mar. 19th, 2008 09:47 am (UTC)
That's funny, I've been through exactly the same thing. As ridiculous and self-centered this assumption is, I also thought I was the only one. I've never met anyone that does it too. Interesting...

Anyway, I think that in some aspects it's a good thing. How many people have you driven with that take their eyes off of the road because they can't talk without looking at you? Plus I make a point to not even try looking people in the eye unless I have a very serious point to make. Otherwise I find the effort useless, I'm trying so hard to look at people that I don't hear a word they've said.

Yeah, it always seems like everyone else does it so naturally, but it's just a huge pain in the ass for me.
Mar. 19th, 2008 10:05 am (UTC)
When I was little, my mum always reminded me to make eye contact with people when I talk to them, so to me, it sounds surprising that no one ever told you that. (Just the fact that you got to your current age without getting frequent comments about the lack of eye contact probably suggest that you can't be that bad at it.)

Then again... I was actually diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when I was about 7. (I'm 18 now, and I no longer have any of the noticeable problems that led to the diagnosis back then. On the other hand, I now study engineering, so in a way I fit into humaazul's theory. xD)

I've actually managed to learn to make eye contact to some extent, but I think I overdo it sometimes, and when I get too tired I forget to do it.

(For example, I got sick once last year, and my mum took me to the doctor. When we got home she nagged me for not making eye contact when talking to the doctor. That was awkward.)
Mar. 19th, 2008 10:18 am (UTC)
I rarely make eye contact with people. Even when talking to close friends, our eyes will meet and then we both look away. I have a tendency to look at friends' mouths or my own hands while I speak. This may be because I'm incredibly shy, I don't know. I just don't like to stare at people I think.
Mar. 19th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
Making eye contact with people, especially during one-on-one conversations, is critical. It says everything about you. Kinda like handshakes, but a lot more meaningful.

I wouldn't worry about "staring people down." The very fact that you're making eye contact while you're speaking pretty much negates that possibility. Think about it -- what really makes a creepy stare creepy is that the person is silent.

It's a whole different ballgame when you're talking.

Speaking from a lifetime of experience, eye contact during conversation gives a person profound credibility. If my conversation partner is making eye contact with me, she exudes confidence, which does two important things (among many): It tells me she's an authority on what she's talking about, and it makes me take seriously what she's saying.

Also keep in mind that "making" eye contact during conversation doesn't necessarily have to mean "holding" it. I liken it to when I'm speaking to a group of people -- don't linger too long on one person, else it will start to creep them out. So I switch from one person to another in the room every few seconds.

Same goes for one-on-one; I'll look at things in the room, maybe turn my eyes up while trying to remember something, then make eye contact to emphasize important points. But I never, ever look down.

Mar. 19th, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
I have a bad time with eye contact too. Really bad. I really have to force myself to look people in the eye, even Mark.
Mar. 19th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
I find it very hard to make eye contact too - most geeks do, and it's pretty well accepted that the aspie population in engineering and computer geekdom is astronomical compared to the general population. Oddly enough, I notice that i've been making eye contact with someone when I either have a crush on them or huh, I know there's another factor in here, but I can't figure out what it is... it might be a comfort level thing. I know I generally look around in a meeting to see how everyone else is reacting to what's being said rather than keep my attention "focused" on the presenter's face. I assume that is related, especially since I almost never make eye contact when doing so because almost everyone else *is* looking at the presenter.

a tip given to aspies that I find really useful: look at the persons nose - they can't tell your not looking them in the eye and it's not as uncomfortable for you. :)

Mar. 20th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
People that are listening hold eye contact more while the talker looks away more. I used to be terrible at keeping eye contact because I was/am so self-conscious, but I'm forcing myself to make and keep eye contact more and more and it is getting easier and more natural. It also helps that I have a few friends that are very good at eye contact. Just practice, you'll get it. :)
Mar. 20th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
It is so funny you should post this: my second daughter has asperger's syndrome. A mild case so far, we have been very careful at diagnosis. But what caused us to begin to notice this phenomenon was her inability to make eye contact, especially when trying to explain something. She finds it too distracting and will lose her train of thought.

Also, ironically, she wants to be an engineer and is a math geek to the nth degree.
Mar. 25th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)
I was pretty shocked when someone first pointed out that I didn't ever make eye contact with anyone. I try every now and then to look people in the eyes (like in interviews) and it's scary to me. Maybe all of my problems in social situations come from this? I'm glad someone as cool as you has the same issue, it makes me feel less awkward.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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