Here’s good news for people easily tongue-tied in social situations: Those who study human communication for a living estimate that only about 10 percent of the information we exchange with each other is verbal.
That’s one part words and nine parts … something else. Tone of voice and inflection play a role, but the lion’s share of communicating is accomplished through body language.
Yet don’t let that fool you into thinking all parts of the body contribute equally. One feature alone counts for more than all the rest combined — the eyes. Whatever color, shape, or size they are, the eyes speak volumes about what moves you emotionally, holds your attention, draws your interest, and sparks your desire.
Psychologist Alan Loy McGinnis wrote: “Watch any pair of lovers in a restaurant. There can be an awesome exchange of energy with the use of their eyes. All our talk about erogenous zones and sex organs neglects one of the most powerful organs of all — the eyes … the people who follow you with their eyes, who look intently into your face, are hard to resist. Studies show that if you hold another’s gaze for only two seconds longer than normal, you have given a clear signal of interest.”1
If you want to communicate something about yourself to a person you’ve just met, be careful with your eyes — and turn unconscious and unintentional speech into poetry.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
Be aware of what your eyes reveal. Most people don’t give much thought to what their eyes are communicating — but they should. For instance, it is a sure sign of low self-esteem or fear when someone reflexively averts their eyes and looks downward. This is significant since confidence is one of the top attractors between members of the opposite sex, and most people are justifiably wary of fearful people — we wonder what kind of emotional baggage they’re lugging around. But the good news is that your eyes can also convey solid self-confidence, emotional depth, and genuine interest in another person.
Look, don’t stare. Now that you know your eyes do a lot of talking, it may be tempting to “speak up” by using them forcefully. Don’t try. Most people agree that being the object of someone’s piercing gaze is unnerving at best. Coming from a relative stranger, it is downright creepy. Staring is a taboo invasion of private space and is frequently an intentional tactic to intimidate others. Staring can also signal overeagerness, which is always a turn-off. Eye contact is a necessary and helpful part of social interaction, but just remember: there is a fine balance between connecting visually with a date and engaging in a stare-down contest.
Eyes front! You might say, “Okay, I won’t stare. But once a regular conversation starts, I don’t have to think about all that eye language stuff, right?” Wrong. Even after words enter the picture, your eyes have a vital role in whether you have an awkward chat or a promising personal exchange. Fortunately, the rules for success are simple: When listening to your partner talk, keep your eyes on him or her. Act as if your date is the only other person in the room or, better yet, in the world. With your eyes, you will communicate one of two things: “I care about you and what you think” or “I am only biding my time till someone better comes along.” Which message you convey is up to you.
Next, when speaking to your partner, look away every now and then. But be aware of where your gaze lands. Looking over someone’s shoulder or at the people at the next table is a sign that you’re distracted or disinterested. To create safe space for your listener, glance briefly away — at the coffee mug or plate in front of you — to release the pressure in a reassuring way.
Eyes are a human being’s most memorable and expressive feature. To attract and honor the partner you seek, use yours well.
1. Alan Loy McGinnis, The Romance Factor (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), p. 21.