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Are you talkin’ to me?

Eye contact, like when you’re talking to someone, are you in favor? I know that eye contact is heavily preached by teachers in middle and high school speech classes. But just in general, when you talk to someone, do you look at them? This may sound like a weird line of inquiry, but it only comes to mind because I recently experienced two extremes of questionable eye contact situations. I’m typically of the mindset that eye contact in conversations is advisable, within reason, no matter how well you do or do not know them. A subtle balance is necessary to avoid reaching either extreme of creepy. If the person with whom you are speaking looks at you directly too much, it’s creepy. If they completely avoid eye contact, it’s creepy – and somewhat suspicious. Maybe some context will help.

I was recently at a physician’s office with my husband. (I’m not going to mention names, so don’t ask.) This physician had a terrific personality. He beamed into the room greeting us without shaking hands (social distancing and all) and was attentive to our responses and questions. He smiled and was thorough in his explanations. Why was this encounter slightly weird, you may ask? It seems like a desirable physician-patient encounter. I hear ya… and you’re absolutely right… except for his use of eye contact. He made terrific eye contact, I mean, constant eye contact. But half the time when he was addressing the patient, my husband, with the pronoun “you,” he was looking at me. Directly. Square in the eyes. And it wasn’t just one occurrence that this happened. Multiple times he addressed my husband while looking me square in the eyes. Weird, right?

Next day, next scenario. This time I was at an appointment by myself with a different type of physician. It was a first-time appointment with this doctor, so this was a consultation. Therefore, a majority of the visit was spent in discussion to help him determine how he can best help me. While he was talking with me, asking me questions, he made little eye contact. Very little. And it’s not like he was looking at a piece of paper or that his attention was on some medical device or some other important thing in the room, like a clock. He just looked straight ahead at nothing. I felt like I was having a conversation with someone who was blind and who actually couldn’t see where I was, specifically, in order to make the acceptable amount of eye contact. I kept looking at him when I’d respond, you know, to make it easy for him to respond in kind, but nothing. The maybe two times he actually looked at me when addressing me, it was a quick glance, and then a quick return to straight ahead.

Now does my question make sense? I am of the belief that a person should take those speech class lessons about eye contact and apply them to most daily-life situations. If I remember correctly, it’s a pretty simple concept. Look at the person or people with whom you are speaking, but not with a constant, direct, creepy blank stare. But also, don’t avoid so much eye contact that the other person wonders what you’re hiding. (Am I right, Mrs. Winters?)

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