How to Make Strong, Unforgettable Eye Contact

February 13th, 2013 by Nick Notas 10 Comments

Steve Mcqueen Eye Contact

Ever wonder how some people seem to walk into a room and command everyone’s attention? Or how your one buddy always gets a warm response when talking to girls? The answer may lie in their eyes.

Repeat after me…

You cannot make successful connections without strong eye contact.

Even more so than having a confident voice, eye contact is the foundation of all your social interactions. While the whole “eyes are the windows to your soul” may sound cheesy, it’s actually a profound statement.

The second you meet someone, your eyes convey a wide range of emotions: from fear, to happiness, to confidence, to trustworthiness, to even sexual attraction. The wrong display can leave you frustrated as to why your interactions are cold and detached. While the right display can captivate people with your presence and have women feeling flustered all over.

Understand tense vs relaxed eyes

Tension in your eyes is a conversation killer. If you want to be inviting, you have to display “softer” eye contact.

Tense, narrow eyes typically occur when we feel “negative” emotions. That includes fear, anxiety, anger, stress, and insecurity. They also appear when you’re focusing intensely on something (like studying or playing a first person shooter). Doing this prevents you from showing a variety of positive emotions which then makes people perceive you as unfriendly.

Relaxed eyes occur when you’re at your most comfortable. And relaxed does not mean uninterested or unfocused. It just means you’re not physically or mentally strained in that moment.

Visualize a memory that makes you feel happy or content. For example: receiving great news, accomplishing something, spending time with good company, or snuggling with your pet. Your eyes will naturally change into a relaxed, warm, and inviting state.

There’s another great exercise in The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane — one of my favorite books on confident body language:

…It all comes down to the way we pay attention. If we’re in narrow, focused, evaluative attention—imagine viewing the world through the eyes of a police officer—our stress system will be on constant, low-grade alert. This brings our eyes into sharp focus, increases our stress responses, and results in both our face and our eyes tensing. It greatly inhibits the amount of warmth we can project.

Charismatic eye contact means switching to a softer focus. This immediately relaxes our eyes and face, and quiets down our stress system. Here are three simple steps to help you switch to a soft, open focus: First, close your eyes. Focus on the space around you, the empty space in the room. Now focus on the space filling the entire universe. That’s it—you’ve moved into “soft focus.”

For some visual references of the two, see tense Clint Eastwood vs relaxed Clint Eastwood. Again, mean and scary vs nice and friendly.

Practice feeling the difference between tensed and relaxed focuses. Then when you feel tension around your eyes in conversation, remind yourself to breathe and soften your eye contact. At first you’re going to consciously do this until it’s a habit and you become more comfortable in social situations. At the same time, leading with the physical change will subsequently influence your mental state to be at ease.

10 Essential rules for confident eye contact

  1. Look at the horizon while walking. You want to meet eyes with people as you move. This creates opportunities for you to approach and provides invitations for them to approach you. That can’t happen if you’re staring at the ground in front of you.
  2. If you meet eyes with a woman before approaching, don’t break eye contact until she does. You want to have a genuine smile as well otherwise it could come off murderous. This shows confidence and that you’re potentially interested in her. It makes your intentions clear and sets up a natural progression for you to say hello.
  3. Eye contact during introductions is an absolute must. Those first few seconds say a lot and can set the tone of the rest of the interaction. Especially with women, making strong eye contact from the start shows security and says “I want to get to know you.”
  4. Maintain steady eye contact when speaking with someone. There are no absolute rules, but it should be over 80% of the time in one-on-one discussions. Just remember to casually break eye contact every 5-7 seconds or so. You can and may hold longer during intimate moments.
  5. Avoid looking down during conversation, it makes you seem embarrassed, anxious, or worse, disingenuous. Look slightly to the side, up, or past the listener when you need to temporarily break eye contact.
  6. Focus on one eye at a time. It’s almost impossible to look at both simultaneously and comes off weird when you try.
  7. Switch your focus point periodically. Feel free to change which eye you’re looking at throughout the conversation. You can use also use a trick called “triangular gazing” in which you keep rotating between one eye, their other eye, and their mouth.
  8. Take your time when glancing around. Sudden, jerky eye movement puts people off. They can feel that you’re distracted or nervous. If you want to look at something else, smoothly move your eyes towards it rather than snapping your gaze or head.
  9. Stay present in social groups. I know when someone else is talking your mind can wander. But staring into the distance or at something else for an extended period of time is rude and awkward. Be aware, catch yourself, and readjust your attention to the person speaking.
  10. Be expressive with your eyes while talking and listening. This demonstrates you’re engaged and active in the conversation. Raise your eyebrows in shock or to show curiosity. Briefly widen your eyes when speaking with excitement. Roll your eyes in humorous agreement or to tease her. Squint your eyes to playfully show distrust in one of her statements.

    You want your expressiveness to become a subtle, natural response and not forced or over the top. Practice in the mirror if you have to. And as always…smile often.

Overcome your eye contact anxiety

While all the advice above is helpful, it only matters if you can actually apply it. We need to overcome the anxiety you feel when looking at someone’s eyes. We’re going replace that flight response of “OMG avert eyes now!” with healthy enthusiasm.

We do this through repetition in progressively more challenging stages. Find the stage where it becomes is difficult for you and start there.

Stage 1:

Walk down a busy street. For every person coming towards you, just try to hold eye contact and smile. You’ll notice how many people perk up and will return a warm smile or even greet you.

Stage 2:

Start greeting those strangers with a simple “Hi” while smiling and holding eye contact. Again, you’ll notice how many people return the gesture and how it encourages your mood and motivates you. This will help manage approach anxiety as well.

Stage 3:

Use your relaxed focus and 10 rules with people you feel most comfortable with. This may be your closest friends and family. Recognize if you’re tensing up or breaking any of the guidelines and actively fix them.

Stage 4:

Use your relaxed focus and 10 rules on every person you have a casual interaction with. This may be cashiers, baristas, tellers, mailmen, professors, etc. Do this until it pushes your comfort zone and then some.

Stage 5:

Use your relaxed focus and 10 rules on every person you have a personal or intimate interaction with, especially women you’re interested in. This may also include your boss or co-workers. It might take a few tries before you get it right. But it’s okay to “mess up”, that’s part of the learning process.

If you haven’t figured out the secret to good eye contact yet, it’s because there isn’t one. You need to practice until it becomes second nature. And not just occasional practice or with certain people, either. It needs to be with every person you come in contact with — no exceptions!

P.S. I just setup my Google+ page, add me to your circles and ask me anything :)

  1. Erik on February 13, 2013

    What about eye contact with other men? I want to get a friendly vibe going, but often we just get locked in staredown. How long? How much?

    • Nick Notas on February 13, 2013

      The same rules above apply, except for maybe triangular gazing. Also, I wouldn’t go over 5-7 seconds at a time like when getting intimate with a woman.

      • Erik on February 14, 2013

        Thank you! I love your site.

  2. Eazy on February 20, 2013

    From reddit:

    “Imagine every girl you walk up to you’re getting a blowjob from them. Your eyes will naturally be more calm, you’ll fall into an aroused state, and escalation or steering of the interaction into a sexual nature will feel easier.” (Paraphrasing)
    I thought that was a miracle quote. And I started adopting that mindset. Try it out in a mirror. Just look into it normally, then pretend (as weird as this is), you’re getting a blowjob from yourself. Your eyes fall back, a small smirk will appear, and your face naturally appears more confident.

    • Nick Notas on February 21, 2013

      Rofl, I see the benefit in the sexual visualization. If it works, I can’t knock it.

      Not sure how I feel about imagining myself though…

  3. Cardplayer on February 27, 2013

    I’m wondering about “stage 2″, holding eye contact and smiling to strangers. Do you actually do this with other men too? I fear a negative reaction from them, don’t want to get a “what the fuck are you looking at faggot?” thing

    • Br@ke on March 9, 2013

      First off, don’t worry about other dudes calling you a faggot. Even if you were homosexual, in today’s day and age, anybody who thinks there is something wrong with that is a unintelligent asshole.
      Secondly, it is possible to come off gay while looking at men. If you make eye contact, don’t look at them the same way you’d look at a woman. Act the way you would if you saw one of your bros. I usually use a tight smile and a nod, accompanied with “how’s it going” or something along those lines.

  4. Tenchi Masaki on July 26, 2013

    Dude, this is gold!

  5. VanBoy on February 20, 2014

    What if you and a girl make eye contact and both hold it for 5 seconds or longer? But neither of you smilies.

    I naturally have a monotone look, as I only smile when I am laughing at a joke or flirting. This girl has a similar look as me, such as a more serious look and she only smiles when someone makes her laugh.

    But, we have had 2 moments on different days, where we both stare into each others eyes. We maintain eye contact, but neither of us smilies or has said anything.

    What does this mean?

  6. Georgi on April 26, 2014

    Thanks for the great article, Nick!