Tuesday, February 15, 2011

10 Tips for Eye Contact

Eye contact is a funny thing. Too much of it and you're probably being too intense. Too little, and you're aloof or socially awkward. You need to have just the right amount but different circumstances call for different amounts. Plus, there are other times when you'll want to avoid eye contact altogether and at all costs. Though I missed "10 on the 10th" this month due to forgetfulness, I thought I'd make up for it now.

10 Tips for Avoiding Awkward Eye Contact

1) When being weird in the car, NEVER look around. Singing in the car? Gettin jiggy behind the wheel? Great. But don't glance at your neighboring cars. Making eye contact in the middle of hitting that high note or bustin that great car-dancing move, is just awful. Ruins the entire song. Picking your nose in the car? Have no shame. We all do it. Just remember to keep your eyes straight ahead (do NOT inspect your findings). If you look to the side, you will be met with a disgusted and disapproving stare from a stranger who will quickly glance away. If this happens, do NOT glance back a second time. They are destined to do it as well and then the situation is doubly awkward.

2) If you're a kid in class trying not to get called on, make occasional eye contact with the teacher when he/she is not looking for participation. I know your logic and I'm on to your tricks. If you are refusing to look my way, I will call on you every time just to teach you a lesson. But if I know you're listening because you gave me an affirming head nod a few minutes before, I probably won't call on you to answer the question no one seems to be able to answer. (Note: do not overuse the head nod. At some point, I will realize you are just zoning out and nodding at me so I think you're listening.)

3) Under no circumstances should you EVER make eye contact with a worker at a kiosk in a mall. Eye contact in this scenario can never lead to good things. I don't need a new phone. I don't want my hair curled or straightened or crimped. And I don't want to try your lotion or your neck massager or whatever crap you're peddling. I was speed-walking through the mall recently, not for exercise, specifically so people would see that I was in a hurry and not try to talk to me. I felt a kiosk worker lock her eyes on me from far away. There was no dodging her. I quickened my pace to a near jog but then I just couldn't do it. I didn't have my phone with me to do the fake call (my typical go-to in situations like these) so I gave in and gave her a quick glance, trying to communicate: "I'm not so rude as to pretend you have the plague but please, oh please don't talk to me." She smiled and said, "I really like your dress." I felt like a jerk. For the record, this is atypical. They don't typically want to compliment you on your dress. They want to badger you until you give in and buy that manicure set you never will use, so come prepared. Have out your phone or be sure to be in the middle of an engaging conversation with whomever you're with whenever you near a kiosk.

4) Make eye contact with babies and toddlers but not their moms. I love to make ugly faces at kids. They usually love them. I love making them laugh and always try to get them to make faces back at me. However, when doing this, you must be very aware of where the parents are. Because the parents will inevitably look to see what their child is laughing at and if they catch you with a triple-chin and crossed-eyes, there will be an awkward moment. If this happens, do NOT try to explain that you were just trying to scare their kid. Simply walk away. Also, make sure the child is too young to speak. If you make faces at a nine year old, they will for sure tell their parents about the creepy person sticking their tongue out. You also should probably learn from another mistake I made a few years ago. I saw a cute kid in a stroller I was walking behind so I did my normal ugly face routine. He laughed. The dad turned. I turned away quickly. But then his dad said, "Katie?" Crap. It was a colleague I didn't know that well. Make sure you don't actually know the parents before you start scaring their kids.

5) Give your pastor some eye contact but not too much. Why not too much? If you give too much, they will keep looking back at you and you'll never have a free pass to zone out or doodle for a moment and you'll feel like a jerk if a yawn slips out. (happened to me yesterday- I felt awful) As a teacher, I recognize this tendency to look at the kids who I know are looking at me and paying attention. Yesterday I made a quite a bit of eye contact with the pastor during the sermon. Possibly too much. I'm a note-taker and this sermon was awesome so I was scribbling away and kept looking up when I wasn't writing and I kept catching the pastor's eye. I thought that perhaps I was imagining it until after the service he said, "you were really paying close attention." I considered pulling out my journal to show him my thorough notes that had zero doodled stars or stussy signs or fancy block lettering (all my go to's in doodling), but thought better of it. Also, you should give the affirmative head nod when you agree with a major point but try to keep the audible, pensive "hmmmmmm's" to a limit as they can be distracting.

6) Don't avoid eye contact with everyone when a fart slips out. There are a few ways you can handle this situation but one sure fire way to ensure your guilt is to refuse to look anyone in the eye. Also, don't glance around quickly to see who noticed. Choose one person to calmly look at and make no sudden movements. Your face must be stone. Or, another tactic is to covertly glance at your neighbor with a slightly appalled and disgusted expression. My brother prefers to go with the shocked, "what was that?" expression as he glances behind him. This works only for him. If there is a dog or small child in the room, make sure you glance their way at least once with a slightly accusatory look.

7) When your teeth are being worked on, don't try to catch your dentist's eye. He's got a drill in your mouth. Do not distract him. Conversation courtesy rules are thrown out the window when you're having dental work done. You're already destined to have a bizarre conversation since your jaw is locked open so don't try to catch their eye and add your two cents to their story. I always feel a bit rude when I stare at the ceiling while my dentist talks, but the one time I did catch his eye, I quickly glanced away and was then stuck in an awkward moment for the next 30 minutes as he finished filling my cavity.

8) When your hair is being done, make occasional eye contact. This is a tricky one. Like the dentist scenario, you don't want to distract them and end up with an extra short hair cut. (perhaps this is what led to my 2004 debacle. No, I'm still not ready to talk about it) However, since you're not laying down but rather are staring in the mirror directly in front of you, be ready to make eye contact through the mirror when they initiate it. I always struggle with knowing where to look because it feels awfully vain of me to stare at myself for 45 minutes and typically will try to find something else to watch in the mirror other than the girl doing my hair. I think it might creep her out if every time she looks up, I'm staring at her.

9) Rarely should you make eye contact with other drivers. If you've cut someone off on the road or made an aggressive move, do NOT glance at them if they end up passing you later. Nothing good can come of this. There could be hand gestures involved, mouthed words, very dirty looks; it could get very ugly. Or they might be feeling smug and victorious and you don't need to see them gloat. If you honk at someone, look away. Look away fast. If you don't, no matter how well-intentioned your honk was, they will not be pleased and might even give you the bird as my own sweet mother received two days ago. If cars are trying to merge into your lane, you'd better not glance over their way or you will have to give in and let them in. Once you acknowledge their humanity, you're just a jerk to deny them access to the lane. If you, however, are the one trying to merge, by all means, try to get some eye contact. In California that is sometimes your only hope when switching lanes in traffic.

10) Avoid eye contact in MOST bathroom situations. Chatting about shoes while you're washing your hands? That's fine. Laughing about the lack of hand towels or the power of the hand dryer? Fine time for eye contact. But if you're waiting in line, hear the flush, and then see the person emerge, let them have their last moment of privacy as their goods swirl down the toilet. Don't make eye contact here. Pretend they didn't just stink up the place and give them a tiny bit of dignity by ignoring their presence. If they are a "flush and dash" type of person, wait a second so you don't catch a glimpse of their poo circling. This is for your own protection and for their dignity as well. (However, you really should wait until your business is out of site before you dash) I mentioned it once before here, but if you ever walk in on someone going to the bathroom, eye contact in this situation is worse than eye contact with anyone else in the world. When you open a door, look for shoes first, not eyes. Never the eyes.

If you disagree with any of my tips or have another to offer, please share your thoughts in the comment section.


  1. maybe not "meaningful" but so funny and so true

  2. Love this! :-) I think I lived by #2 in High School because I was deathly afraid of being called on in class even if I knew the answers. #3 I always do the phone trick and fake talk or text while walking, lol. And I was just thinking about the hair thing the other day. Do you watch the mirror so you can see how she styles it so you can do it at home? Or do you look down? It's awkward. Always.

  3. Amendment to #6 – DO make immediate and accusatory eye contact with a friend when you are together at Wendy’s and hear a loud squeak come from the small gap between their butt and those nasty plastic chairs. Intense eye contact coupled with laughing and even pointing is needed in this situation.

    Waiting Rooms at Doctor’s Offices - There really is NO way of making eye contact in this situation that does not communicate, “oh my gosh, I wonder what they are in for”. Even the sympathetic head tilt and nod comes across as, “oh, you DON’T look good – and I really wonder what you are in for”. On the other hand, the waiting room at the dentist’s is a totally great place to make eye contact because we are all in the same boat, with our problem in same general (non-embarrassing) vicinity. It creates a sense of camaraderie and eases my nerves a bit knowing that if that scumbag behind the mask tries to suffocate me again that one of my new buddies may have my back.

    Oh and yeah, #8 is the worst.

  4. Emma- I do try to watch but always feel like Shannon must think I'm judging her as I watch her every move.

    Katie- I knew I could count on you to add very valuable tips. I actually debated if I should post this today because of you. Here was my thought process: "If I post this, Katie will know I had time to be on the computer and I should have e-mailed her back instead of writing this. Oh well. She'll understand." Sooo, know that a return e-mail is in the making and I have told no less than 50 people that my friend Katie pulled a 10 foot tape worm out of her dog's butt. It's been making me quite popular but I have lots of questions for you about it beginning with "what does a tape worm look like that is 'contracting'?"

  5. Ah, yes. The debacle of 2004. I had forgotten.

  6. Hey there Katie, I know I am a definite fan of this topic because it made me laugh the whole time. Most people will relate, and it's almost a curse of being Asian--avoid the EYES first and foremost, then avoid awkward moments, but then live and let live. (Shrug). I think California driving gets us all out of our shells--like a surge of adrenaline pumping or egging us to see what we can avoid by going faster or thinking of where to pass. I'm a total speed demon when it comes to seeing my family on weekends, but it's so weird when people are eager start the staring contest on the road. Thanks for the tips, entertainment and really thoughtful construction of all the explanations. Awesome blog.

  7. Think undulating. And stop apologizing.

  8. Jenna- thanks for you thoughts. I hadn't thought about eye contact from an Asian perspective:)

    Katie- googled undulating. Now I have an adequate visual.

  9. Love these!!! I love making faces at babies. They are the best!

    Also, when driving in CA I stick my arm out for a friend if we really want to get over. It works so well and it's also really funny. :)