People with low self-esteem tend to have difficulty holding eye contact and, as well as being correctly interpreted for what it is, it can also be misunderstood as being shiftless or lying.
But correctly applied, eye contact is one of the surest indicators of confidence and therefore it is well worth practicing to ensure you come off as neither too domineering, nor too meek.
Imagine that you are attending a job interview for a position you are keenly interested in. Visualize the person conducting the interview as a clean shaven man in his fifties with brown hair that’s well on its way to going gray, and kind, blue eyes that seem to encourage you to talk. Now imagine that you have been asked a question and you want to answer it well. Take a moment to imagine constructing your answer then look directly intro the interviewer’s eyes as you begin your answer, and hold your gaze for about five seconds as you speak. Now flick your gaze away as you consider your follow up statement, then look back to look into his eyes as you talk.
There’s no need to invent an actual discussion. Simply picture your making and breaking of eye contact as you talk. See yourself using it to emphasize important points, then look away after the point is made. Make sure that when you wish to appear properly attentive you look into the interviewer’s eyes when he talks or asks a question. If he describes something look away as you imagine whatever it is, and then back again to acknowledge the fact that you have done so.
Now for many people this kind of making and breaking of eye contact comes entirely naturally. But if it doesn’t to you then this exercise will help you to increase your level of eye contact, and for sensible durations, with appropriate breaks.
Understanding how we move our eyes
When talking with someone we also use our eyes as we recall or invent details. For example, when asked to remember something visual most of us will move our eyes up and to our left, as shown by face (a) in Figure 1. But when inventing a visual image (or pretending to recall a real one) we will generally look up and to our right, as shown by face (b) in the figure.
Figure 1: Looking top-left and top-right
The same thing happens with auditory information except that we simply look to our left for remembered sounds, or our right for imagined or reconstructed sounds, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Looking center-left and center-right
When we talk under our breath or in our imagination we tend to look down and to our left, as shown in face (a) of Figure 3. Our eyes also reveal when we are feeling a sensation in our imagination by moving down and to our right, as shown by face (b) in the figure.
Figure 3: Looking bottom-left and bottom-right
Now these movements may be very tiny indeed and often are unobservable. But when you see them you can get a good indication of what someone is thinking or feeling, and whether or not they may be being truthful. However, you should never rely on the technique for anything more than an indication, since a few people move their eyes in opposite left and right directions to the norm, although once you know that someone is left-right reversed for eye movement you can take this into account. The top, middle and bottom positions, though, appear to be the same for everyone.
Using this information you can try to control your eyes and guard against revealing too much to other people, although it’s not as easy as it sounds. And you may also find that if you roll your eyes around in a complete circle there are several spots at which they try to settle. These will be natural positions where you frequently move your eyes when thinking or recalling, and you can try experimenting with them by moving your eyes to these places and seeing what feelings or memories this elicits – in some people this practice can help inspire creativity when a block is encountered.
To exude greater self confidence try watching the eye movements of people on television and see how they fit into these patterns. Then practice making the movements yourself while imagining talking with another person, tying the correct eye movements to what you are saying. This is not an exercise in learning to lie, although it could be used to attempt this. Rather it’s to help you gain more conscious control of your eye movements to better convey your message.
There’s a lot more on eye-contact and body language in my book Creative Visualization for Dummies.