Whatever Happened to Good Old-Fashioned Eye Contact?

I remember my first job interview like it was yesterday. Mostly because I was so nervous and so, so overdressed.

While I waited in my stiffly starched shirt and uncomfortable shoes for the interviewer to call my turn, I quietly repeated my mother’s suggestion for making a confident first impression:

“Look ‘em in the eye!”

Classic advice, and it worked like a hot dang. That day, I landed my first job with the help of a simple and powerful body language cue called eye contact.

“From birth to death and all occasions in between, the eyes have it,” says Psychology Today author Dr. Audrey Nelson. “Eye contact is the strongest form of non-verbal communication.”

Our eyes possess enormous influence over emotional expression and the remarkable, unspoken connection we have with significant people in our lives.  Mom knows it. So do you.

But today, people are using eye contact less and less.

The Decline of Eye Contact 

New research conducted by communications-analytics company Quantified Impressions suggests adults make eye contact between 30% and 60% of the time while speaking to individuals or groups, yet they should make eye contact 60% to 70% of the time.

When did we forget to look each other in the eye?

Wall Street Journal writer Sue Shellenbarger has some theories. In her recent piece about the decline of eye contact, she points to:

  • Multitasking with mobile devices.  Ever try to have a conversation with someone while tapping out a text message on your iPhone? It’s extremely difficult to pull off without unnerving your conversation partner with your awkward downward glances and darting eyes.
  • Fewer face-to-face work environments. The Internet has created an upswing in home-based and other remote work, accustoming more and more people to talking without making eye contact.  Instant messaging, Skype chats, and email dominate over person-to-person interactions in the workplace.

Our modernized social habits (Facebook chats, anyone?) and technological dependencies have clearly influenced how we interact with other people in the ‘real world’ today– but that doesn’t mean we should write off eye contact as an outdated form of expression.

In fact, the amount of eye contact you use during a job interview still speaks volumes – too much eye contact is often perceived as aggressive or creepy, and too little hurts your chances of appearing trustworthy and knowledgeable.

As business etiquette expert Lahle Wolfe says, “making eye contact is not only seen as appropriate, but is necessary in establishing yourself as a powerful business professional.”

Failure to make eye contact during an interview is “a common nonverbal mistake,” according to 67% of employers surveyed for this Come Recommended infographic.  A mistake that could cost you the job.

So let’s step away from the smart phone and get back to basics of eye contact so you can walk into any job interview and own it.

How To Use Eye Contact With Confidence

1.    Know when it’s OK to look away

It’s eye contact, not a staring contest! Hold it for 7 to 10 seconds in a one-on-one conversation, and 3 to 5 seconds in a group setting to make a memorable impact.

2.    Practice on your way to the grocery store

As you walk down the street, practice brief eye contact with strangers to get yourself comfortable with face-to-face encounters. The smiling reactions from passersby may surprise you.

3.    Pair eye contact with active listening

When your interviewer speaks, engage with the words and focus your full attention on what he or she is saying. You will likely discover you need to maintain eye contact with the speaker in order to do this.

Take it as an opportunity to express your sincere interest in what the speaker has to say. And while you’re busy being present-minded in conversation, you won’t have time to be shy about eye contact! 

Keep the classics – keep eye contact!

When it comes down to a conversation between you and an interviewer- or any face-to-face interaction- the good old-fashioned non-verbal cues still apply. Confidence is classic, and eye contact makes all the difference.

What about those statistics?

We’re a nation of faces glued to mobile devices, contributing to the decline of eye contact amongst adults.  What do you think of this phenomenon? Is this an issue that needs to be addressed? Let us know in the comment section below!     



Nelson, Audrey. “The Politics of Eye Contact: A Gender Perspective.” 15 September 2010. Psychologytoday.com 

Shellenbarger, Sue. “Just Look Me In The Eye Already.” 28 May 2013. WSJ.com

Wolfe, Lahl. “Business and Social Etiquette – How to Make Eye Contact.” About.com: http://womeninbusiness.about.com/od/businessetiquette/a/making-eye-contact.htm