Body Language of the Eyes:

What to Do When They Just Won’t Look at You

Kirk Duncan | April 2, 2018

I stood at the checkout counter watching the cashier ring up my groceries. His head and eyes were straight down, intently focused on his work. As a mentor, I really make an effort to reach out and uplift people everywhere I go, every chance I get. I look for ways to communicate each individual’s value to them, because too often, they can’t see it themselves. I wanted to relate with this man—let him know he’s not alone, that someone does care. I kept my eyes right in the line of focus of where his would be if he were to look up at me. He glanced up now and then, and every time, I met his eyes with a big grin on my face. There wasn’t much to our interaction—solely nonverbal communication. But I know that little bit of eye contact and smile gave him a boost to remember his value as a member of the human family.

I stood at the checkout counter watching the cashier ring up my groceries. His head and eyes were straight down, intently focused on his work. As a mentor, I really make an effort to reach out and uplift people everywhere I go, every chance I get. I look for ways to communicate each individual’s value to them, because too often, they can’t see it themselves. I wanted to relate with this man—let him know he’s not alone, that someone does care. I kept my eyes right in the line of focus of where his would be if he were to look up at me. He glanced up now and then, and every time, I met his eyes with a big grin on my face. There wasn’t much to our interaction—solely nonverbal communication. But I know that little bit of eye contact and smile gave him a boost to remember his value as a member of the human family.

We all know communication is important, and most of us realize that practicing and maintaining good eye contact is a critical component of effective communication. If you watched this segment on Good Things Utah, you understand:

  • how to practice good eye contact,
  • how to tell what others are thinking about based on their eye movements, and
  • how to practice effective, relationship-strengthening communication through your eyes.

(If you haven’t watched it, here it is:)

What if you practice good eye contact, but those you interact with just won’t look at you? What do you do?

Eye contact skills in the world today are deteriorating. If you’ve ever walked onto a bus, into a waiting room, or another public space, I’m sure you’ve seen what I’ve run into: a room full of people, each with their head down and nose buried in their phone or computer. To add to that, many often have earphones in their ears. With all this technology at their fingertips, many have literally limited their sight and hearing. By reaching so deeply into the virtual world, they have, in effect, closed themselves off from the real world around them.

Encountering people in this state is especially challenging if you hope to reach out and connect with them. It’s pretty difficult to have a conversation with someone who is completely shut off from you. They may not even be aware that you’re there. How can you practice good eye contact if the person you’re interacting with won’t even look at you?

I want to let you in on a little secret. This tip has helped me to connect with others who, at first, had no intention of even acknowledging my existence.

If someone is looking away from you, keep your eyes focused where they would be looking if they were making eye contact with you.

I want to let you in on a little secret. This tip has helped me to connect with others who, at first, had no intention of even acknowledging my existence.

If someone is looking away from you, keep your eyes focused where they would be looking if they were making eye contact with you.

This way, if they do happen to glance up, you’re right there. This technique is not intended to be creepy – it’s simply a way of letting them know you’re there when they’re ready to communicate with you.

And here’s another tip:

If you’re talking with someone and they won’t make eye contact, simply pause in the conversation. This will draw their attention back to looking at you. Then thank them for giving you their attention.

The condition that really makes these tips work is: never try to coax the other person—with your words or your body language—to look at you. They’re probably looking down for a reason. Remember, looking straight down often means they are tuning in to their emotions. If you force them to look up, you cause them to disconnect from those emotions. In addition, urging them to look up may inadvertently shame them for whatever it is they’re feeling. And that’s the last thing you want. What you really want to communicate is acceptance and love.

This concept holds especially true and critical for children. Kids are desperately seeking your acceptance. They’re young and still figuring out how to navigate their emotions. Often, when you talk with them, they may look down to get in touch with the emotions they are experiencing. There is no need to exclaim, “Look at me when I’m talking to you”—that’s the old way. The new way is to let them look wherever they need to as they search for answers and understanding. Allow them the freedom to analyze and understand their feelings so they can form a response that accurately reflects that.

Understanding how basic eye movements correlate with a person’s thought processes is an incredible tool to add to your collection of knowledge. But the purpose of this understanding isn’t about reading people’s minds, judging their intentions, or revealing their deepest, darkest secrets. It’s really about understanding who they are, what their perspective is, and how you can accept, serve, and love them. With their eyes, they give you cues and clues as to what they really need. That’s why they always say, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Learn to look through the window and understand what you see.

Understanding how basic eye movements correlate with a person’s thought processes is an incredible tool to add to your collection of knowledge. But the purpose of this understanding isn’t about reading people’s minds, judging their intentions, or revealing their deepest, darkest secrets. It’s really about understanding who they are, what their perspective is, and how you can accept, serve, and love them. With their eyes, they give you cues and clues as to what they really need. That’s why they always say, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Learn to look through the window and understand what you see.

Want more insights and tips on how to connect with others through your eyes?
Click the button below to access my complimentary audio training,
“Speaking Eye to Eye.”

For additional training on eye communication and body language,
attend one of the 3 Key Elements live events listed below.
Click the links to learn more about each class:

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