Thank you for tuning back into my blog series on healthy communication! In my first two posts I covered using “I” statements and waiting periods. This week I am focusing on a nonverbal communication skill: eye contact.
During my time as an undergraduate student, I worked in a nonverbal communication research lab. Every day I watched video of people with the sound off as we looked for facial expressions that might be related to their emotional regulation style. It was there that I learned first hand how much of what goes on with someone is not about what they are saying. One of the things we specifically looked at was eye contact.
3. Eye Contact is Key
When we don’t want someone to see what is going on with us, we avert our gaze. We look down at the floor, we check our phones, or we just look away. However, when we do look directly into someone’s eyes it is a sign that we are listening deeply to what they are saying.
If you want to improve your communication with someone in your life try making an effort to make eye contact even during difficult conversations. To learn more about the importance of eye contact in therapy check out this article from psychology today.
In order make eye contact happen more easily you should also consider another nonverbal cue, body position. It is hard to look directly at someone if you are sitting next to them rather than facing them. Before you jump into a big conversation, consider where you are going to sit or how you are going to sit.
When working with couples or families I prefer to have chairs rather than couches. With two chairs you can configure them such that both people are facing one another. This makes it easier for both people to make eye contact. For this same reason, you might opt for chairs rather than sitting on the couch together.
Practice This Skill
You can use this skill when you are thinking about preparation for an important conversation. Try blocking out some time to prepare while keeping this in mind. You can also use this if you find yourself in the middle of an important conversation just skip directly to step four.
- Take a moment to visualize or physically look at the space where you conversation will take place. Is there a place in the house where you tend to have important talks?
- Think about how you can configure the room so that you are facing the other person. You might have to get creative here. If you only have a couch, imagine turning your body on the couch so that you are facing the other person.
- Close your eyes for a moment and picture the other persons face. Imagine what their eyes look like. Sit for a about a minute just visualizing looking into their eyes. Notice if this is uncomfortable!
- When it is time to talk remember to face directly toward them and make eye contact even when it is unpleasant. If you find yourself wanting to turn away take a deep breath and reengage.
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