The Power Of Eye Contact: How To Use It To Build Stronger Relationships

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated July 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We all know the saying: “Eyes are the windows to the soul.” Whether or not you believe in the concept of a soul, this phrase conveys how varying levels of eye contact can affect our connection with others.

Eye contact is a powerful tool that can impact our mental health and relationships. It can enhance empathy, trust, and social connection, while lack of eye contact can lead to discomfort, distrust, and disconnection. Eye contact is important in communication for conveying emotions and building rapport. 

With effective strategies and tips for using eye contact in social interactions, individuals can improve their romantic relationships, build stronger friendships, or enhance their professional connections, ultimately leading to more effective communication and deeper connections with others.

Do you want to deepen your relationships and connections?

The science behind eye contact

As social creatures, eye contact plays a significant role in building relationships, as well as in emotional control and stress reduction. We can convey empathy, trust, and social connection with just our eyes. On the other hand, the lack of eye contact can lead to feelings of discomfort, distrust, and disconnection. By understanding the science behind eye contact, we can communicate more effectively and build stronger connections with others.

Studies have shown that eye contact can significantly impact how we perceive others and build connections with others. Forbes says, “Eye contact produces a powerful, subconscious sense of connection that extends even to drawn or photographed eyes.” They demonstrated this by commenting on a study done which asked people to choose between boxes of a certain cereal with the mascot’s eyes manipulated to look in various directions; most of the participants chose the box that was “looking” at them.

Making eye contact with others can improve our ability to understand their emotions, intentions, and beliefs, leading to greater empathy and understanding. Additionally, eye contact can foster feelings of trust, honesty, and cooperation, making it an essential tool for building rapport in social interactions.

Using eye contact effectively in personal or professional settings can help establish connections, facilitate communication, and build stronger relationships. Eye contact can even play a role in romantic attraction and intimacy by signaling engagement and emotional connection. By understanding its effects, eye contact can be a powerful nonverbal tool to enhance social interactions and improve relationships.

The benefits of eye contact in relationships

Eye contact is a powerful nonverbal communication tool that can significantly impact the ability to build stronger relationships. Here are some of the effects of eye contact in our relationships.

Improved communication and understanding

Making eye contact can be important for improving communication and understanding others better. Maintaining eye contact during conversations demonstrates active listening, empathy, and a willingness to understand the other person's perspective. 

Eye contact can also help to convey emotions more effectively to express gratitude, admiration, and affection. This can strengthen our relationships with others and create a deeper connection. Whether engaging in a personal or professional setting, the power of eye contact should not be underestimated to improve communication.

Increased trust and intimacy

Eye contact attraction can be a potent tool for building trust and intimacy in relationships. Making eye contact can make it more likely for an individual to be perceived as trustworthy or honest. Maintaining prolonged eye contact signals that an individual is engaged, attentive, and willing to connect on a deeper level. Time quotes Dr. Monica Moore, a psychologist at Webster University in St. Louis, “…the available evidence suggests that men and women around the world use many of the same nonverbal behaviors to communicate romantic interest… smiling and eye contact do appear to be universal methods used by men and women to convey romantic interest.” 

Additionally, eye contact attraction can deepen intimacy in romantic relationships by fostering a sense of vulnerability and openness. Having moments of eye contact attraction with our partners can create a sense of connection that strengthens emotional bonds.

Enhanced empathy and compassion

Making eye contact is a powerful tool to enhance empathy and compassion, as it allows better understanding and connection with the emotions of others. Looking into each other’s eyes can provide subtle emotional cues that might otherwise be missed. 

Eye contact can also facilitate emotional control and social learning because individuals can mirror the emotional expressions of others. This can create common experiences and empathy, leading to greater compassion, understanding, and social cohesion.

Getty/AnnaStills

Greater sense of connection and belonging

Making eye contact with others can create a powerful sense of connection and belonging. Looking into someone's eyes acknowledges their presence as a human being. This can help create a feeling of connection between individuals and make others feel included in social situations. Additionally, eye contact can boost a sense of social support and well-being. 

Strategies for building stronger connections through eye contact

Eye contact is a powerful tool for building connections and improving communication skills. However, making eye contact can be uncomfortable and challenging for many people. Below are some strategies for becoming more comfortable with eye contact, paying attention to its quality, using it for active listening, and balancing it with other nonverbal communication.

Building comfort with eye contact through practice

Making eye contact can be a daunting experience for many people, especially in unfamiliar or high-pressure situations. A good way to overcome this discomfort is through practice. Practicing eye contact in low-stress situations, such as with close friends or family, can help build confidence and familiarity with the process. 

Beginning with brief eye contact during conversations and gradually increasing the duration and frequency can be helpful. Practicing in front of a mirror can also help individuals recognize nervous habits and build comfort with eye contact.

Paying attention to the quality of eye contact

When it comes to eye contact, quality is just as important as quantity. It's important to make sustained eye contact without making the other person uncomfortable. To improve the quality of eye contact, individuals can focus on maintaining a relaxed gaze, paying attention to the other person's eyes, and being mindful of their facial expressions and body language. 

Do you want to deepen your relationships and connections?
iStock/PeopleImages

Using eye contact as a tool for active listening

Making eye contact can be a powerful tool for active listening. Looking into someone's eyes while speaking communicates that the listener is fully present and engaged in the conversation. This can build trust and enhance our ability to understand and respond to the other person. For active listening, it is important to maintain eye contact while the other person is speaking, avoid interrupting or looking away, and use nonverbal cues like nodding or smiling to demonstrate attention.

Balancing eye contact with other forms of nonverbal communication

To effectively communicate with others, it's crucial to balance eye contact with other forms of nonverbal communication. While eye contact is important, using facial expressions and body language to convey emotions and signal interest is equally important. For instance, nodding, smiling, and leaning in can communicate someone is engaged and interested in what another person is saying. On the other hand, crossed arms or looking away can signal discomfort or disinterest. By incorporating different forms of nonverbal communication, individuals can develop a well-rounded and effective communication style.

Professional resources for building stronger relationships

Online therapy can be beneficial for individuals interested in improving their communication skills. Online therapy provides a safe and discreet space for individuals to explore their thoughts related to communication and relationships. Through virtual sessions, individuals can learn effective communication techniques, including eye contact, to build stronger relationships with others. Online therapy also provides the flexibility to have therapy from an individual’s location, making it easier to incorporate into a busy schedule. 

Online therapy has been proven to be effective for communication skills. One study adapted an emotional control and social communication skills group program to teletherapy. It concluded, “With careful planning and consultation with families, adapting an established face-to-face emotional control and social communication program to teletherapy can be achieved quickly in an unprecedented time. Overall, telehealth is a cost-effective method of supporting continuity of care for families living in geographically remote areas or those reluctant/unable to utilize traditional mental health services.” Online therapy can be just as effective as traditional therapy, making it a valuable option for individuals seeking to improve their communication skills and enhance their overall well-being.

Takeaway

Eye contact is a vital nonverbal tool that can have a significant impact on relationships and enhance empathy, trust, and social connection. In contrast, a lack of eye contact can lead to discomfort, distrust, and disconnection. Understanding the power of eye contact can help individuals improve their communication skills and build stronger relationships in various areas of life. By using effective strategies and tips for eye contact in social interactions, individuals can deepen their emotional connections with others, leading to more fulfilling and meaningful relationships.
Explore attraction and connection with a professional
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started