In conversation, lots of people need look away to think.
On the other hand, lots of other people get upset if their speaking partner doesn’t maintain continuous eye contact during a conversation!
This thing about who looks at whom can cause a fair bit of confusion.
I can’t stare at you – I need to imagine what you are describing
And it goes back to that childhood ‘look at me when I’m speaking to you’ rule!
Back then when your parent or teacher was speaking to you, you had to look them in the eye or you were in trouble.
Yes, even though, as a child, you intuitively knew it made good sense to not look at them – otherwise how could you process what they are saying! How could you make pictures of what they are describing??!
After all, as the listener, you’ve got a lot going on…
- You need to make internal images to make sense of what they are saying
- You must follow the tonalities they are using
- You have to check the mental calculations of what they are offering you.
And there are a few other jobs which work a lot better if you look away to think. Yes, you can also keep an eye on their facial expressions and gestures, but an intermittent or occasional glance does this job fine.
But intermittent glances aren’t good enough for some people. They so buy into the ‘good eye contact’ thing that if you so much as glance at an ear lobe they get upset and distracted! They want eyeball to eyeball contact and nothing else!
The ‘good eye contact’ rule
Now it can be fascinating to watch a “good eye contact seeker” attempting to have a conversation with a “need to look away to visualise” person!
The eye contact seeker keeps shifting their posture, so they are looking straight into the other person’s eyes. Meanwhile the need to look away person does everything they can to avoid being distracted by this eyeball-to-eyeball contact!
The experts are to blame!
The fault lies with the “the body language experts!” Somewhere along the way they’ve come up with arbitrary rules on what is ‘good eye contact’.
And a lot of other people have decided that, since they are ‘experts’, they know the truth – and that those who do not follow these rules have got it wrong!
Happily, in NLP we treat people as individuals.
We accept that there are many styles of communicating – and many ways of using our brains. And we respect individuality and creativity.