30-Day Experiment #1: All About The Eyes

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by Scott Kostolni

The Power Of Eye Contact

I was never much of a social kid growing up.  I have always had great friends but struggled with meeting new people.  At parties I never knew what I was supposed to do; often times I would sit alone on a couch.  Even at parties where I knew everyone I would still get overwhelmed and keep to myself.

I realized this was something about myself that I wanted to change so I started reading books and studies on social interaction and communication.  It’s become a huge hobby of mine (recently re-ignited when my brother introduced me to micro expression training) and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about it.  So when I came across this guest post on Tim Ferriss’ blog talking about President Clinton’s powers of persuasion and powerful presence created by his eyes I was immediately interested.  Here’s a quote from the post and Michael Ellsberg’s book on the topic of eye contact:

Anderson (Special Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files) spoke on Late Night With David Letterman of an encounter she had with Clinton several years earlier: “We all, mostly women, lined up. And when he gets to you, he takes your hand and makes eye contact. After he leaves and he moves on to the next person, he looks back at you and seals the deal. When I got home, I expected to have a message from him, and I didn’t. I bet women across America expect it too.”

The effect mentioned above is called a Reality Distortion Field. If you’ve ever had the experience of being the only two people in a crowded room during a conversation, you know what it is.  That fact that he was able to create this by his presence alone was something I wanted to learn how to do.

Benefits Of Learning Good Eye Contact

Powerful presence isn’t the only great thing about developing good eye contact skills.  There are a lot of benefits. In personal and professional relationships making good eye contact not only lets someone know they have your full attention but also portrays confidence.  Good salesmen use eye contact to build rapport and con-men use it to appear trustworthy while they rob people blind.  Romantic attraction also has a lot to do with finding a deep connection in someone else’s eyes; If you are uncomfortable and look away you might miss an opportunity to meet someone extraordinary.  Making eye contact with people in public also helps you feel more connected to the world around you.  I experienced that yesterday while I spent the day in New York City.

Hone Your Skills

Becoming skilled at eye contact is a matter of practice.  The more you try it and experiment with it the better you’ll get.  Locking eyes with someone else does have a certain intensity to it and you may need to work through any fear or uncomfortable feelings that come up.  Here are some tips that might help.

  • Start by practicing with a close friend or family member.  Start off easy and set a stopwatch for only 30 seconds.  During that time you are to focus on looking into eachother’s eyes and just notice any thoughts or feelings that come up.  It’s natural to feel uncomfortable or tense (laugh a little if you have to).  Take a break and then reset the stopwatch for 1 minute and try again.  Increase the duration and repeat as many times a necessary until you feel comfortable.
  • Make direct eye contact by any waiters, bartenders, store clerks, and cashiers you meet.  These people are there to help you and may even be grateful for a sincere connection.
  • I have gotten myself in the habit of making eye contact every time I greet someone, especially if it’s a new person.  When my arm goes out for a handshake my eyes look right into the other persons.  It makes a great first impression and will help you feel more comfortable.  Don’t break the eye contact until you transition into normal conversation.
  • Get your eyes away from your feet and out of the sky.  Try to make eye contact with anyone you pass when out in public.  You’ll be surprised at how many other people manage to avert their gaze from you.  On occasion you will find someone else who is awake in the moment and make a small connection.

When you start feeling comfortable with that you can move onto some more advanced techniques.

  • Try communicating with just your eyes.  Can you get someones attention with just your gaze?  Can you flag down your waiter? A cute girl/guy at the bar?
  • Play around and experiment again.  What happens when you make too much eye contact?  Or too little?  Try positioning your body or changing the distance with someone during a conversation.  See how it effects how connected you feel.  Can you say specific things with your eye or read the ‘thoughts’ of others?  Who’s eyes are comfortable to looking into and who’s aren’t.  Why?
  • If you get the opportunity to find an Eye Gazing Party go an attend for some awesome practice.  It’s like speed dating but without asking any questions.  You just have a few minutes to looking into someone’s eyes before moving on to the next person.  I have not been able to find one in the New York City/Long Island area but if you hear of one let me know!

30-Day Experiment #1: February 1st – March 2nd

For the next 30 days I will be working on my eye contact skills as much as possible.  I have some specific missions laid out that I will be talking about on twitter so make sure you follow @iamhaen for those updates.  My direction is to work towards creating my own Reality Distortion Field and all around becoming comfortable with looking into peoples eyes.  Overall I hope to be able to convey an aura of confidence and increase the amount of intimate and meaningful conversations.

If you would like to participate you will get the most out of this experiment by working on it every day.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time just make a conscious decision to increase your eye contact and notice what happens.  Try some of the techniques listed above and let me know how they go.  I really want to know what you experience come let me know in the comments on twitter or through e-mail. I would love to feature some experiences you guys have at the end of the experiment. Please share this post with anyone else who you think may be interested as well.

This experiment may not be for you.  If you don’t want to participate no worries.  Next week we go back to our regularly scheduled program.  It’ll feature a somewhat embarrassing story and explain why failure is pretty cool and can help you to get rid of fear.  Make sure you don’t miss it by signing up for the e-mail newsletter below. Feel free to share this as well if you think your friends may be interested, I really appreciate it.

Further Reading:

‘Do you want to stand out or immerse yourself into another culture’ image provided under a creative commons license by Alaivani.


{ 7 comments }

Kat @ Me Simplified February 1, 2011 at 2:43 PM

Wow. Great post! I’m going to practice eye contact and see if that helps me feel more comfortable meeting new people. I’d feel kinda of creepy making eye contact with strangers on the train or bus, though. But I can practice with the girl at the register at the grocery or Starbucks.

Scott Kostolni February 1, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Kat, that sounds great. I have found it makes it a little easier for me to talk to a stranger if we’ve made eye contact first (especially if it wasn’t followed with a nasty look lol). Hopefully you’ll get more comfortable with it over time. I’m not staring at strangers, just looking at their eyes and giving a small smile before getting back to what I was doing. It does make me feel more connected to the people around me.

Today I’ve been working out of a Starbucks and trying to meet the eyes of some of the people who come in. It’s hard, everyone else averts their eyes before you even get a chance. It’s kind of like a game.

Whatever you decide to do I would really enjoy hearing about it.

~Scott

Tanja from Minimalist Packrat February 2, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Hey Scott,

I’m interested to hear how your New York eye contact experiment went.

I noticed an interesting thing this weekend. I’m in Florida where the folks are almost as stand-offish as New Yorkers, but I went to a spiritual retreat conference with my momma. Everyone who was there was so quick to make eye contact, smile and say hello. It was refreshing. Of course, when I took my name tag off (the sign of belonging) the smiles and hellos would dissipate.

My honey Patrick is one of those “super social” people. He makes eye contact, he smiles, he says hi to everyone. Me coming from a very reserved upbringing (Finn’s are known to be aloof and my mom’s Finnish) I used to be embarrassed when he would say hi to strangers. Yeah. Actually embarrassed by it. How backwards is that?

So anyways, Patrick has rubbed off on me over the years and now when he says hi to some random person in a store and they say, “Do I know you? I don’t know you. You must think I’m someone else,” I don’t get embarrassed anymore. I love it.

He’s the ultimate community builder and he’s gotten me out of my shell. (Like you I used to be very shy.)

So anyways, I’m rambling. I just wanted to say I love your post, and I love it so much I linked to it in my most recent post.

Keep shaking up those New Yorkers with your eye connections.
-Tanja

Scott Kostolni February 6, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Hey Tanja!

Thank you for listing my in your last post. It was a nice surprise. So the full experiment is going on until the beginning of March but while I was in the city I spent some time trying to make eye contact with people on the street and on the subway. It was very interesting.

Personally I found that I still have my own reservations about it. As soon as I do make eye contact with a stranger I need to fight the urge to instantly look away. It seems to be the reaction that everyone has. I’ve had quite a few people say that they feel it’s wrong to make eye contact with someone they don’t know. It’s very interesting. The few people I did make eye contact with were pretty open to it. The trick was figuring out how to balance the moment. If I looked away too soon, or lingered too long it became uncomfortable. I had to time it almost perfectly. Once I got in the hang of it it was pretty easy. I smiled, acknowledged that we created a connection and then let it go. When I did it right it often times led to an acknowledgment when we were parting ways. If I was leaving the subway (or the coffee shop when I practiced it there) I wanted to say good bye, like I would to a friend.

I haven’t quite communicated with eye contact just yet but it does make interactions more personal. I have also noticed that I received better service while eating out when I made an effort to make contact with my waiter/waitress. In hindsight this feels like something that should be common sense but I don’t think it is. I think we tend to see the people around us as something different than a person. When we make a connection those people become real and we start to care about them.

Patrick sounds like a great person to be around. I really appreciate people who go out of their way to make others comfortable and strike up a conversation. I’m glad to see it has rubbed off on you.

~Scott

Barbara Hinz February 5, 2011 at 7:38 PM

Hi Scott,

What a wonderful article and experiment this is. It is really amazing how many people are intimidated or afraid of eye contact. Just taking a look around at my fellow coworkers is quite an eye opener. (Pun intended.) I would say that about 1/3 of them walk across the bus yard looking at the ground, never lifting there heads up. Perhaps I could do a “duck walk” so that I can gaze up into their eyes and catch their attention. :-)

Making eye contact is such an important part of our connection with each other, our eyes are truly the window to our souls. I remember reading an article by Neale Donald Walsch about a meeting he had with an Australian Tribal community where the customary greeting was to place foreheads together and look directly into the eyes and hold that position for some time. Neale discovered how powerful connection became. I know my coworkers are not ready for something as intense as this but I will practice making eye contact with as many as I can each day this month.

(0) (0) Here’s looking at you!
Barbara

Scott Kostolni February 6, 2011 at 12:39 PM

Barbara,

That tribal custom seems really interesting, though I agree it is pretty intense. I have started noticing a difference in my reactions depending on my distance to someone else. There are a few sections of the book I mentioned that talk about how you can affect the closeness you feel to someone with some techniques. I am going to re-read those sections because I think proximity is going to be an important part of creating that feeling of being the only people in the room that I am aiming for.

Let me know what you experience Barbara. I think you will see some major changes in your interactions with your co-workers if you can make good eye contact even for a few seconds. Tell me how it goes!
~Scott

Freedom | Rethinking the Dream February 9, 2011 at 9:04 PM

Eye contact is a good skill to work on. For a long time through much of my school years I had a hard time making eye contact with people. As I entered the working world, I slowly began to practice making eye contact. It’s especially useful during job interviews. I think it just makes it look like you are paying more attention and you care what the other has to say when you are making eye contact.

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