Eyes on the Prize - eye contact is more intimate than words will ever be

“There is in the eye, a tongue we can’t silence”

In one of my previous post weeks ago, I was keen on writing about understanding the non-verbal communication we often give off without even realizing it. This is premised on research that suggests that as much as 93% of our interpersonal communication is non-verbal. Amazing!

How your body moves, what expression your face makes, how fast you speak – even where you stand or sit, how much perfume you have on, what type of jewelry you wear or whether your hair is long or short, every flick of your wrist or change in the vocal tone- all these elements send messages far more convincingly than any words spoken.

Emerging science in the field of psychology, anthropology, linguistics and sociology shows that non-verbal signals are the most honest and reliable sources of communication.

The problem now is that many people have conditioned themselves not to listen to these signals. They are so fixated with the verbal communication which represents just a paltry 7% of the true communication. We deny our gut feelings and relegate them to the back of our conscious thoughts because we think they are not as reliable as our rational evaluation of other people.

The best communicators are those who have learnt to listen to their gut feelings. They know when to stop trying to convince someone to buy a product or when to stop believing a lie from a partner or lover. They know when to show empathy and when to stand their own, all based on body signals given off unconsciously by the other person.

Because we fail to take this issues are seriously as we should, we end up getting duped, swindled, jilted, misled, tricked, cheated, punished unduly, beaten and even traumatized.

Wouldn’t it be cool to know how to read these non-verbal signals, so you can know exactly what the people around you really think, not just what they say?

This may come in handy during an interview for instance or while meeting someone for the first time. Research from Princeton University shows that when we meet someone for the first time, we make our initial judgements about a person’s attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness within 100milliseconds- one tenth of one second – of meeting them!!!

Incredible! And once those impressions are formed, they tend to stick and become even more entrenched. Only by careful managing any future interactions (if you ever get a second chance) can you ever hope to change a bad first impression.

Our face is a huge billboard for non-verbal cues. Our conscious facial expressions help us share our feelings of love and connection, agreement and collaboration, disgust and dismay. They can be used as a mask to hide those feelings – but they can’t make the true underlying feeling go away.

Today we will look at the expressions that makes the eyes the windows to the soul. While I am torn between writing about facial expressions and other body languages, I will let the discussion today center on eye contact.

We tend to make more eye contact with people we like and agree with and less with those we dislike, disagree with, or are intimidated by. When you look another person in the eyes, you are saying that you feel good about yourself – Your re confident, you are trustworthy, and you know what you are talking about.

Most of all, it tells the person that you listen, an increasingly rare thing in our society. An attentive listener will hold eye contact roughly 70% of the time, but often we spend our listening time trying to collect our thoughts. Our conversations become like cafeteria food fights – we duck out of the way while they are talking and then hurl our words at them as soon as they’ve finished. LOL

Trivia – Women love eye contact. They gaze into anyone’s eyes –women or men – especially one-on-one, and they tend to like it much more than men do. Men will tolerate it with women, but they don’t like it as much, and they definitely don’t do it as often with other men.

Women are more likely to break eye contact with men because they don’t want to lead them on. Men often misread prolonged eye contact as a sign of attraction.

 Too much eye contact

We typically believe people who look us in the eye, and we tend to distrust those who don’t. But extreme eye contact can also be an indication that someone might be lying. Experienced liars will purposely maintain eye contact just to come across as honest and trustworthy.

In spite of this, you should use eye contact often, if not always. If you have trouble maintaining eye contact, you must work on this critical skill. Studies have found that employers view prospective hires who don’t make eye contact as unattractive, detached, passive, incompetent, and lacking composure and social skills.

When you’re getting started, just do a little at a time. Begin first by making eye contact while you listen to someone else speak. Do this with five people a day, adding a few more people each week. You will gradually feel more comfortable, and you will notice people responding to you more positively.

Stalker Stare

You feel the stalker stare when you’re having a conversation with someone and they are just starring at your eyeballs and blinking only twice or three times a minute. You might feel like you’re being stared down. But often when people give the stalker stare, they are concentrating intensely.

Whether or not someone is doing this deliberately to throw you off balance, you don’t have to let it change your reaction. You can either stare right back, if that doesn’t bother you too much, or you can refuse to meet their eyes. After all they have your eyes! You don’t have to give in to eye ball intimidation. This is the facial equivalent to dropping your hand out of a dominant handshake – it’s always your option to just say, “No, thank you. I won’t be needing your bullying today.

Look into the eye/nose triangle

Sometimes we do a stalker stare without being aware of it. If you’re talking to someone, and you sense that they’re starting to squirm and not meeting your eyes, take note of your own eye contact. You might be the person who never blinks. That’s why it’s always important to look in the eye/nose triangle, the area of the face between the two eyes and the nose. By giving the other person’s eyeballs a break, you will avoid staring them down.


Most of us need to blink at least six to ten times a minute in order to coat our eyeballs and keep our eyelids from sticking, but that frequency can increase to upward of a hundred times a minute when we’re under stress. One researcher found that when President Clinton was asked about his teenage drug use during a presidential debate, his blink rate went from an earlier debate average of 43 blinks per minute to 117 per minute.

You often see an increased blink rate when a person is lying or overly anxious. The person feels pressure to answer a question, which speeds up the thought process and, consequently, the blink rate. When you are in deep thought or concentration, or if you’re staring, the blink rate can slow down to two or three times per minute

Although we might want to control blinking during times of high stress, trying to do so consciously will just make it worse. It’s much better to learn to relax your whole body during stressful times. When you stay more relaxed, your body won’t trigger the automatic processes that speed up blink rate.

One way to use blinking consciously would be to flirt: flutter your eyelashes briefly while you tilt your chin down, perhaps while you’re taking a sip from a straw. (Yes, it might seem a bit old-fashioned, but people still drop napkins, and how old is that?)


A wink is a bonding mechanism that can be used by friends or prospective lovers. Picture a crowded room of people, and a woman looks up and sees this attractive, extroverted guy who winks at her. He makes her feel sexual, as if only the two of them are connected in this vast room of strangers. A wink says, “I’m not noticing anybody else at this particular moment.” If you’re attracted to or otherwise agree with the winker, you might find it flattering or fun; otherwise, it will probably be a bit of a turnoff.

You might get a wink from a coworker during a boring meeting or from your spouse during a particularly unappetizing dinner with the in-laws. This wink says, “You and me, we’re in this together.” In a business-type situation, winking at someone who’s in a superior position could be a bit risky. If someone winks at you but you have no interest in bonding with this person, just turn your head immediately and do not acknowledge the wink. He or she’ll get the message.

There is a lot more about managing eye contact especially as a critical social skill for everyday use, but the ones highlighted here will put things in perspective for anyone who is keen on being in control of the sort of information that they pass on to anyone they are in contact with.

It is an often overlooked skill to have and an under-utilized skill when communicating with people.

As the most significant moments in nonverbal communication we can cite: facial expressions, posture, proximity, touch and perhaps the most powerful way in communication but truly eye contact is perhaps the most powerful way to communicate.

Please re-read the post again.

Credits to Tonya Reiman’s “Power of Body Language”


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8 thoughts on “Eyes on the Prize”

  1. This is educational. I learnt quite a few tips and tricks here.

    I wish to recommend that you highlight some sentences. I found quite a lot of them catchy and punchy.

    Thanks Akin.

  2. This is actually a catchy article. I remember when I was younger, then my mum uses her eyes to communicate a lot with my siblings and I ( oju to’n soro). You dare not say that you didn’t understand what the look she gave you meant .

  3. Adedamola ilori

    Good read,definitely worth the time and really surprised at what I’ve learnt from just an eye contact

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