Simply gazing somewhere around the face/head area will suffice
March 8, 2019 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Here’s A Simple Trick For Anyone Who Finds Eye Contact Too Intense. tl;dr: Look at the person's mouth region. The perception of eye contact is driven by the other person looking in the general direction of your face, not into your eyes specifically. Study PDF, press release. posted by not_the_water (30 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I read somewhere that it's good to focus on people's hands for a few seconds when you sense that eye contact is getting to be a little too much for either of you. I find myself doing this at some point almost every day, mostly in work meetings. It works really well! I'll add the "mouth region" to my list of gaze-focus-locations. :) <------/me gazes right there
posted by kinsey at 10:19 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]

Unless one has severe Misophonia.
posted by sammyo at 10:25 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]

Fuck that, then you're making me think I have something stuck in my teeth. There is literally nowhere on another person's body you can continually focus on while you talk to them, just rove your eyes around occasionally and furtively glance at your/their feet.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:25 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]

Autistic Lifehack(TM)!:

Look at peoples eyebrows. This way you aren't making eye-contact (which stresses me out) BUT you're looking at the general vicinity of someones eyes so 90% of the time people *think* you're making eye-contact and they don't hate you.

This has been, an Autistic Lifehack(TM)!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:29 AM on March 8 [46 favorites]

Figuring out this trick was a big helper for me as I was coming out of my shell at the beginning of my twenties. Unless I am very relaxed or talking to people I know, I tend to find direct eye contact very intense and distracting. Sometimes I'll be in the middle of a conversation when I suddenly completely loose the thread as I get lost in and overwhelmed by the torrent of emotions exposed by those tiny windows into peoples' souls. By quickly refocusing on the mouth I find I can re-achieve conversational equilibrium.

This became especially easy when I moved to Germany and learned German. In case anyone found my mouth staring disconcerting, I could always fall back and tell them it helps me better understand German (it does). Not one ever commented on the fixation of my gaze however, and I always suspected people couldn't tell, and this study would seem to back this up.

Some people think I'm an extrovert but it's all tight control and conversational algorithms. I find social gatherings enjoyable, but also quite exhausting.
posted by Alex404 at 10:41 AM on March 8 [33 favorites]

Some people think I'm an extrovert but it's all tight control and conversational algorithms.

This is awesome.
posted by Bob Regular at 10:48 AM on March 8 [12 favorites]

"Some people think I'm an extrovert but it's all tight control and conversational algorithms."
Oh my god, I've been trying to formulate the words for this idea for *years*!
posted by notsnot at 11:24 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]

Mouth Region, the new album from Neil Cicierega
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:33 AM on March 8 [8 favorites]

Look at peoples eyebrows.

Eek then I just think there's something wrong with my eyebrows or my forehead's all sweaty or something.*

Why can't everyone just wear mirrored Ray Bans?!?!

*(I'm not actually this insecure any more but man I can remember how it felt).
posted by aspersioncast at 11:51 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

(Can you really even tell if someone is looking at your eyebrows rather than your eyes, though?)
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:02 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

I almost always tend to look at people's mouths to deal with early hearing damage. It's helpful.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:05 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

I have a hard time with eye contact, and I naturally look at people's mouths. I hate it, because I just end up staring at people's teeth like there's something in them. The worst part is that sometimes there is.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:06 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

I've often noticed women having one-on-one conversations look directly at each other's faces for long periods, men not so much. I find talking with a man we'll often look at the same thing, together.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:08 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

I generally just look past people at something behind them and then make direct eye contact for a fleeting second when it feels appropriate. I have a natural inclination to look toward the torso instead, which in certain obvious contexts is a lot worse than just not making eye contact at all, so looking past people is what I do instead.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:09 PM on March 8

Just above the head works well enough too.
posted by bdc34 at 12:12 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Some people think I'm an extrovert but it's all tight control and conversational algorithms.

About three years ago I switched roles at work from developer to solutions engineer, which in my case means I demonstrate software and talk through issues that prospective users may have, and it involves meeting a lot of new people. The line I tend to use in my introductions is "...because I'm the rare developer who can talk to people..." and it always elicits chuckles around the table.

I'm really actually incredibly shy, but I've used this opportunity to develop the skill of, well, "talking to strangers." As I'm demonstrating ecommerce software, I occasionally deal with a little bit of lag, or early on when the software was a little more fragile, things would go poorly, and I've become very good at just talking right through these things. Showing someone something that's not doing what I want? There isn't even panic to internalize anymore, I just keep the conversation going while simultaneously clicking my way back to safety. While a lot of what I do is over a screenshare, I do a decent amount of travel and face-to-face meetings. I've used the "look at their eyebrows/nose/right-through-them" to eventually get comfortable with actual eye contact, but it's still a chore.

It's incredibly exhausting, and outside of work I can be reluctant to go into social performance mode, but it is kind of interesting to have this proverbial new tool in my kit.
posted by Leviathant at 12:55 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

I think a part of me feels like, no matter who I'm talking to, if the eye contact goes on too long, there's gonna be kissing.

I didn't say it was a rational thought.
posted by argybarg at 1:09 PM on March 8 [12 favorites]

I was always told to focus on the bridge of the nose.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:27 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

I was traumatized in Jr. High when I kept trying not to make direct eye contact with a girl I was working on a project with and she was like "stop looking at my tits!"

America, I was in fact not doing that.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:01 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]

Sometimes it's amazing how hard we can make it to just be a living human being. The endless deluge of ad hoc social 'rules' tends to take all the spontaneity out of our lives.

Much easier for manikins.
posted by Twang at 2:40 PM on March 8

Does anyone else find themselves, during a conversation, distractedly thinking "I've looked at their eyes enough, time to shift to an ear or mouth, and now that's long enough, time to look them in the eyes for a moment and then glance at the wall, is that enough, maybe I should look in their eyes again?"

Asking for a friend.
posted by Wetterschneider at 3:02 PM on March 8 [13 favorites]

Oh. This post an the previous post about Adult Autism diagnoses seem to be related...

Quote from the article linked in the previous post:

"I picked my fingers the whole time (a form of stimming for me), I concentrated as hard as I could on my eye contact, if I was giving enough, or too much. I focused on whether I was talking too much or too little."
posted by Wetterschneider at 3:07 PM on March 8

I'm not really autistic but probably on the spectrum, and very introverted especially when I was younger. I've never been good at eye contact, in fact I can't understand the basic concept at all, it's alien to me.

Anyway, I can verify that this will only result in people saying "Is there something in my teeth?".

The eyebrow trick works better. Another good trick is to make good, serious eye contact for just a second at the beginning of a conversation, then look away the rest of the time, that seems to be the bare minimum to convince people you're not an insane weirdo.

But yes, when in a conversation with people who don't already know me, I'm endlessly worrying whether it's time to make eye contact again.

Having grown up without the technology, for the last 10 years or so I've found that mobile phones make life way easier. It's become normal to look at your phone off-and-on while talking in a casual conversation, and I finally can avoid 90% of eye contact and seem normal!
posted by mmoncur at 3:34 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]

Always take full advantage of the opportunity to do the up-and-left "I'm thinking" gaze.
posted by rifflesby at 1:06 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]

I go back and forth between a person's mouth and their eyebrows because I lip read.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 1:59 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

Some people think I'm an extrovert but it's all tight control and conversational algorithms.

It took me a while to develop my algorithms, and eye contact rules are definitely one of them.
One thing which has been very useful for me (someone with significant Prosopamnesia and a purely artificial process for looking at and talking to people) is that when people recognises you, they do a tiny thing with their eyebrows. Like a a tiny involuntary twitch.
Moreover, despite the fact that most people don't know they do this, people get offended if other people don't do it when they feel they should. I think it's a hardwired thing in humans. (Well, many humans. Not in me)
Social interaction success went up quite a lot when I figured that one out.

So likewise I get branded "sociable" or "good with people". It's all algorithms.
When I am too tired I tend to turn off these algorithms (and facial expressions, which are mostly manual too). It has taken many years for my wife to learn that I am not furious. I've just turned off some of my emulations.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:04 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]

Look at peoples eyebrows. This way you aren't making eye-contact (which stresses me out) BUT you're looking at the general vicinity of someones eyes so 90% of the time people *think* you're making eye-contact and they don't hate you.

The trick I worked out at ten years old to foil my mother's first-line lie detector was looking her straight in the eye (left or right, pick one and stick with it, otherwise you look shifty) but defocusing so that her face went all blurry. As long as I managed not to go crosseyed at the same time, it worked a treat.
posted by flabdablet at 4:05 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]

Actually I've now tried this on several people and had them try it on me, and in fact it totally worked great and I take it all back, all the things I said.

Ironically I did subsequently find something stuck in my teeth that I really thought one of my test subjects should have told me about.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:28 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]

Where can I find more "conversational algorithms"?
posted by Mesaverdian at 11:46 AM on March 11

This is good to hear; I look at people's eyebrows but then I often get transfixed by the forehead and fear that people think I'm looking at wrinkles and that there's also something perhaps overly intimate in looking so directly at the place where a lot of emoting is coming from. Mouth-gazin, here I come!
posted by LeviQayin at 3:26 PM on March 11

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