Eye contact is considered a central part of nonverbal communication. While the expectations around eye contact vary between cultures, it is often considered to be a key factor in building trust and showing honesty during communication.
Research shows that eye contact is more than just a polite form of paying attention and signaling that you are listening. In fact, when people look directly at each other’s eyes, they activate the limbic mirror system. This mirroring causes the same neurons to fire in the two brains, which is linked to the development of empathy or shared emotions during communication.
Maintaining eye contact in a personal meeting when you are both physically present in the room can sometimes be awkward, particularly if you are meeting a client for the first time.
The good news is that you do not have to stare directly into the other person’s eyes. In fact, a direct gaze when the other person is speaking signals that you are listening. Make eye contact when first greeting the individual and before you begin talking or reach out to shake their hand.
During the conversation, hold the gaze for up to five seconds, and then you can move your eyes away naturally. If the person is gesturing with their hands or pointing something out, it is very natural to look in that direction. Then, return your gaze.
When breaking your gaze, look to the side and more your eyes slowly and deliberately. Breaking the gaze quickly and darting your eyes back and forth or dropping your gaze can be taken as signs of dishonesty or discomfort.
Nothing is more distracting and off-putting than meeting with someone online looking up, down, or to the side during their presentation or comment. Unfortunately, incorrect placement of the virtual meeting screen and the camera can make it very difficult to make eye contact.
To avoid this problem, look into the camera and not directly at the people on the meeting. If possible, use an external camera that is centered and at a natural eye level with the screen, giving the attendees the impression you are gazing directly at them.
Turn the virtual meeting screen to speaker view and avoid looking off to the side or up and down at the various people, which is something we would naturally do during an in-person conversation. Holding our gaze steady on the camera helps to ensure all attendees feel you are speaking directly to them and making critical eye contact throughout the discussion.