Have you ever had a conversation with someone who couldn’t look you in the eye? Perhaps their eyes wander around the room or they’re looking down at their smartphones. Chances are that you’ve had at least one conversation like this. In fact, it seems like it’s happening more often these days, and some people say that it’s become a serious problem and a sign that young people in particular have poor social skills.
According to the Austin, Texas based communications-analytics company, Quantified Impressions, adults make eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time during an average conversation. However, the company also notes that adults make eye contact 60 to 70 percent of the time during a conversation in order to create an emotional connection.
There are a few reasons why people might have trouble maintaining eye contact. For younger people, using smartphones and other mobile devices for multitasking creates a problem with maintaining eye contact. Teenagers and twenty-somethings tend to have their entire social lives connected to these devices, and many have a habit of checking their phones for messages from friends or news about other events even when they are in a meeting or at a formal dinner. This behavior, while it may send a message of disinterest or disrespect to those not similarly connected to their phones, is often based on a fear of missing out on social opportunities or simply out of habit.
Another reason why eye contact may seem to be a thing of the past with so many people is due to the current trend of working remotely or from home. Many younger adults simply don’t need to communicate with people in person as often as they once did. They don’t need to look anybody in the eye to communicate successfully with him or her, so they simply forget how important it is to some people. It may simply be more efficient to communicate impersonally.
Of course, another big reason why some people have difficulty making eye contact is because of their personality. Introverts, people who become anxious in social situations or people with developmental disabilities such as autism, often have trouble looking a person in the eye. Sometimes this is an issue of just having poor social skills, but more often than not it can be chalked up to social anxiety. Holding one’s gaze and making eye contact can be difficult for a variety of emotional or psychological reasons.
Being able to look a person in the eye is a major sign of confidence and respect in our culture, and as difficult as that can be for some people it is also something that can be improved upon. People who have had difficulty looking others in the eye are often unaware of it, but have been able to improve their eye contact by watching themselves on video during meetings or practicing maintaining eye contact in more comfortable situations with people they trust. Some have even practiced having conversations in a mirror.
Many of the social skills we value in our society can be attributed to eye contact. It can make a person come off as confident, respectful and interested in what others have to say, but it is still difficult for introverts or those with special needs. This can be frustrating for some people, and while it isn’t meant to be disrespectful, it can often come off as such. Teach your children and students how to improve their eye contact with the aforementioned skill-building activities so they will not be looked over or thought to be disrespectful by potential friends, colleagues, and employers.
Copyright 2013 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.
Source: Shellenbarger, Sue. “Just Look Me In The Eye Already.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 28 May 2013. Web. 30 May 2013.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.