The Echoes of the Mind (137-5-5) Conversational Eyes

  Conversational Eyes

Dyad conversations are guided by the eyes. Though other signals are employed, turn-taking is neatly arranged by a characteristic pattern of looking, eye contact, and looking away.

Attention capture through eye contact is necessary to start any conversation. Typically, you look at the eyes of a person; as soon as they look back you can begin speaking. Eye contact may be prompted by remark, such as “excuse me.”

As soon as conversation begins, the speaker looks away. Usually a listener will look more than the person talking. To show responsiveness and interest, a listener needs to look at the speaker’s face 75% of the time, in glances lasting 1–7 seconds.

Women generally listen more attentively than men. This is true too in gaze during conversation.

Meanwhile, the speaker looks at the listener less than half the time: just enough to maintain intermittent eye contact. These glances rarely last more than a second each; anything much greater can be uncomfortable for either the speaker or listener, or for both participants.

Eye contact is reestablished to initiate response. In easy, relaxed conversation, a speaker acknowledges with at least a nod.

The easiest way that a speaker can avert being interrupted is to avoid the listener’s gaze. If eye contact cannot be established, a listener has a hard time politely interrupting. Such a tactic may backfire socially: while the speaker may make his point, a sour impression lingers in the listener.

The remedy for someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise is to withdraw gaze attention. Look to one side in a way that affords noticing when the speaker finally looks at you; which will eventually happen in hopes that you have been paying attention. At this point, meet the speaker’s gaze and take your turn.