Eye Contact Guidelines Are Not Universal
How and when to make eye contact depends entirely on the customs of where you are, who you are with, and the social setting. For example, some cultures consider making direct eye contact aggressive, rude, or a show of disrespect. Other cultures, and some religious groups, consider eye contact between men and women inappropriate and either as threatening or flirtatious. In many Asian cultures, avoiding eye contact with a member of the opposite sex or a superior is seen as a show of respect.
However, in the United States and most of Europe, making eye contact is not only seen as appropriate, but is necessary in establishing yourself as a powerful business professional.
Eye contact is a method of communication. A quick glance sends a different message than a cold stare - but both are forms of making eye contact. Depending upon the culture, setting and person, the message you think you are sending may not be the one that is received.
How to Effectively Communicate by Making The Right Eye Contact
In business, and social settings making the "right" eye contact never involves staring at someone or having a fixed gaze. To make eye contact, look directly into the other persons' eyes for 4-5 seconds. Be sure to blink normally, and nod or shift your head from time to time during a conversation. Mimicking the facial expressions of the person talking (i.e., showing concern or smiling) also helps to support appropriate eye contact. A frozen stance and tense face seems more like staring than contact.
Almost universally, looking into someone elses' eyes for more than a few seconds before smiling or otherwise changing your facial expression. Blinking fast and frequently can be associated with feeling nervous or uncomfortable; be sure to gauge your own blink rate and watch how the person you are looking at is responding.
Making Eye Contact in the United States
In the United States, making eye contact is interpreted as showing interest, paying attention, and a sign of self-confidence. Unless the situation itself is confrontational in nature, it is generally acceptable for children, adults, and people of both sexes to make eye contact with other people.
In business, it is particularly important that you make eye contact when you are introduced to someone and when they are speaking to you. You do not have to stare someone down, but frequently glancing away or refusing to make eye contact may be interpreted as weakness, disinterest, or as being disrespectful.
Making Eye Contact in European Countries
Most European eye contact customs are similar to those in the United States, specially in such countries as Spain, France and Germany. In France, making eye contact with a stranger may be interpreted as showing interest.