Difficulty maintaining eye contact

Originally Published: September 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 3, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I've been experiencing in the past few months something that I understand, but am unable to deal with effectively. It is the difficulty to maintain eye contact while conversing with others. Usually my thinking drifts from paying attention to the conversation into concentrating on where should I look. It's really annoying and sometimes it makes me avoid people just because I'll be unable to have eye contact with them.

What is also annoying is that I feel that the person I'm talking to is getting unnecessary tension because of my "looks" that I'm sure do not carry any bad feelings or insinuations. I've read an article suggesting that this could be part of a "shyness syndrome," however, I do not consider myself to be shy.

Finally, this phenomenon fluctuates, but I haven't been able to relate this fluctuation to any specific factor (i.e., it does not change whether talking to men or women). Thanks for your valuable answer.

Yours,
The Appreciative inquirer

Dear The Appreciative Inquirer,

Many people, shy or not, find that they need help with their conversational skills. Although you don't consider yourself to be shy, you might have at least one thing in common with shy people: you may attach more meaning to your own words and actions (in this case, eye contact) than those around you. Naturally, you're less able to tune into the actual words and flow of a conversation because you're paying attention to where your eyes are. You should know, though, that noticing this as an area to work on is a great first step. What would it be like for you to be a confident and effective conversationalist?

If you're interested in getting to that point, there are lots of resources available. Countless books have been written on this very topic. Two that come to mind that you might find useful are Dale Carnegie's The Leader in You: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living and How to Win Friends and Influence People. You can also look into courses in conversation or social skills that are often offered at the YM/YWCA or local schools, including community colleges.

Although books and classes can offer tremendous benefits, you might also take some time to explore some possible reasons why things are the way they are. How much value do you put on eye contact? Do you think people won't respond to you unless you maintain complete and direct eye contact? Might you think you're not good at socializing, and never will be, because you can't maintain eye contact (that's unlikely, by the way)?

These questions will surely open you up to the notion that beliefs influence actions. To address these sorts of beliefs, it'd be useful to partner with a counselor. If you're a student, you can make an appointment at your school's counseling department or mental health clinic. At Columbia, you can call Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) (Morningside campus) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC). Student or not, you can log into the National Institute of Mental Health's Getting Help: Locate Services for more information on finding a counselor in your area.

Whether you look into books, courses, and/or counseling next, you've already taken a bold step to improve your conversational skills. It's hard to admit areas that could benefit from some hard work and positive change. With each step you take toward tackling this difficult issue, your relationships and self-confidence will benefit.

Alice

January 6, 2014

547799
Maybe just focus a bit more on your own needs; they may reduce your need to feel you have to maintain eye contact with another in the first place. Honor yourself first. That may help build inner...
Maybe just focus a bit more on your own needs; they may reduce your need to feel you have to maintain eye contact with another in the first place. Honor yourself first. That may help build inner trust which then extends outward and also helps you get into the right interactions for you, where eye contact is perhaps a more desirable thing.

May 21, 2009

21548
Hi,

I've always had this problem, and I don't know why this is. When I look into someone's eyes, and they look into mine, I feel exposed, as if they know what I'm thinking or something. I realise...

Hi,

I've always had this problem, and I don't know why this is. When I look into someone's eyes, and they look into mine, I feel exposed, as if they know what I'm thinking or something. I realise this is completely irrational, but it's difficult to control.

I try to force myself to just deal with it though. I make it my goal to make whoever I'm talking to believe that I'm confident. Sometimes I can't do it, and I try to make it look natural by using a lot of gestures and just casually glancing around the room.

Anyway, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with this irritating problem.

May 29, 2007

21251

Dear Alice,

Hi, I also have this problem and I often get accused of lying because I look away (even when I am telling the truth.) So I find it helpful since I make hand gestures a lot when...

Dear Alice,

Hi, I also have this problem and I often get accused of lying because I look away (even when I am telling the truth.) So I find it helpful since I make hand gestures a lot when I speak to look at my own hands and focus on what I am saying rather than appearing uncomfortable in front of the person I am talking to.

April 25, 2007

21197
Hey there!

I find that I too have that problem. However, I have come up with a solution for myself. I find that keeping constant eye contact with someone is very hard to do. So the best thing is...

Hey there!

I find that I too have that problem. However, I have come up with a solution for myself. I find that keeping constant eye contact with someone is very hard to do. So the best thing is for me to watch their mouth as they are speaking, or look at them, but look a little bit over their shoulder. I am a relatively shy person but come in contact with many people everyday. Hope this helps.

Bye!

— Can't make eye contact

February 14, 2007

21186
Dear Alice,

I agree with the second response. I always get scared of making the person feel uncomfortable if I stare for too long, and so I end up not making eye contact very much, which I guess...

Dear Alice,

I agree with the second response. I always get scared of making the person feel uncomfortable if I stare for too long, and so I end up not making eye contact very much, which I guess is even worse. I'm trying to be conscious of it every time I engage in conversation and force myself to make much more eye contact. I tend to find that confident speakers have no problem with prolonged eye contact, no matter how long I stare at them.

February 14, 2005

20857
alice,

i, too, am facing the problem. tried a thousand techniques but of new use. here the intention comes into the picture. it seems like others feel our intentions are bad.

alice,

i, too, am facing the problem. tried a thousand techniques but of new use. here the intention comes into the picture. it seems like others feel our intentions are bad.

September 16, 2004

20809
Dear Alice,

I just wanted to let the writer know that he/she is not alone. I have been suffering with the same problem for years. When I am talking to anyone, I'm afraid of staring too much...

Dear Alice,

I just wanted to let the writer know that he/she is not alone. I have been suffering with the same problem for years. When I am talking to anyone, I'm afraid of staring too much because I do not want to make the person uncomfortable, and I also worry about not making enough eye contact because I might look disinterested. It's terrible to worry about because you can never fully enjoy conversations with people or really feel like you are connecting. I have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the past so this may be a symptom of that.

October 31, 2003

20513
Dear Alice,

I just read the article on difficulty maintaining eye contact. I also have difficulty maintaining eye contact.

Thank you for this informative article...

Dear Alice,

I just read the article on difficulty maintaining eye contact. I also have difficulty maintaining eye contact.

Thank you for this informative article!!!