Eye contact is everything – especially during a pandemic

I miss being able to read other people’s body language, almost impossible to do in an age of social distancing and face masks.

How I ache for a hug, a kiss on the cheek, the dinnertime toast and close conversations — behaviors now on hold to keep us safe. We can’t shake hands anymore — a gesture of goodwill that has been around since 5th-century BC in Greece. A fist or an elbow bump is impossible to execute while staying six feet apart.

These days, except for the times I lean in for a hug out of habit, I greet others by clasping my hands together and placing them over my heart or putting them behind my backs and nodding.

However you choose to greet people during COVID-19, it’s important to know and understand the signals you send with your eyes and equally important to be aware of the eye signals of others. This is easy to do while wearing a face mask.

Before COVID, researchers from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center found that most people made eye contact with the lower part of the face – the nose, lips and cheeks – even though true feelings are expressed primarily with the upper part of the face, through the eyes, brows and forehead.

Direct eye contact should be made 40 to 60 percent of the time. Any less may make you appear shy, lacking in self-confidence or – horror of horrors – downright rude. Too much eye contact can be intimidating and make the listener feel put on the spot and under a microscope.

Focusing your eyes correctly helps you concentrate on the other person. When you are doing the talking, watch the other person’s eyes to make sure you are holding his or her attention.

If your eyes say, “I’m listening, and what you’re saying is important,” it helps you be a better listener and lets the other person know he or she is valued. When you don’t look people in the eye, they are less likely to look at you. Then THEY start thinking about something else, and when that happens, they stop concentrating on what you are saying.

Looking into the eyes of others is an important skill that will serve you well at all times in all areas of your life.

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