How To Improve Your Eye Contact

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated December 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Eye contact is a nonverbal cue humans often use to communicate how we feel and think about a situation. At the very beginning of any social interaction, direct eye contact can help improve connections and display active listening. Other active listening cues include nodding, leaning toward your conversation partner, and offering verbal affirmation. 

It may be possible to improve eye contact through practice and feedback from other people. Being fully present in the room and aware of your conversation partner's feelings can be achieved through eye contact therapy and other practices. Online therapy can be an option if you’re interested in working on your eye contact skills.

Getty
Do You Find It Challenging To Make Eye Contact?

Why Is Eye Contact Important?

Research shows that eye contact is an important visual cue for building social connections. By maintaining eye contact, you may show your conversation partner that you’re fully present and engaged in the conversation. Avoiding eye contact might give the sense that you’re disinterested in what they’re saying, even if this isn’t the case.

Making a connection with another's eyes can feel as if you're glimpsing into their soul, creating a powerful and intimate moment. Eye contact may happen naturally, but sometimes it can go wrong, leaving you to wonder how to improve this essential skill.

When Eye Contact Is Difficult

iStock/PeopleImages

You're not alone if you feel like eye contact is difficult or awkward. Many people find it challenging to make eye contact with their conversation partners.

There are several reasons why you may find it challenging to make eye contact. Once you identify them, it may become easier to seek assistance in improving. Here are some of the many reasons why eye contact may be difficult:

  • You’re Nervous: If you’re nervous or feeling anxious about how others view you, you may avoid eye contact and try to end the conversation quickly.
  • You’re Distracted: It can be tough to focus on your conversation partner if there’s a distraction that’s grabbing your attention. In this case, it could help to mention the distraction and use it as a talking point.
  • You’re Disinterested: It can be natural to lose focus when you’re not thrilled about the topic of conversation or the person you’re talking to.
  • You Have Other Factors At Play: If you’re a person who is neurodivergent or has an anxiety disorder, eye contact and communication might be difficult or uncomfortable.

How To Improve Eye Contact

Please note that people who are neurodivergent may find this skill difficult, and it can be possible to be socially successful even without making eye contact.

You can work on improving your eye contact through practice. For example, you might strike up a conversation with a barista at a coffee shop and focus on holding eye contact while placing your order. When engaging with clients or acquaintances, you might choose to sit down for a conversation and focus on maintaining eye contact. In the beginning, it may feel a bit intense, but with practice, you'll develop a more comfortable balance.

Alternatively, you could ask loved ones to help you practice making eye contact while speaking. Trusted friends, parents, and family members might be willing to offer feedback if you ask. They might have been observing your eye contact for several years and can provide insights and suggestions to help you improve. 

Receiving feedback or suggestions from loved ones can be an effective tool for some, while others might find it frustrating or isolating. Both experiences are valid, and a licensed professional can often help you talk through them.

Another way to practice eye contact could be to discuss things you're passionate about in daily life. Since you feel strongly about the topic, you may find it easier to express yourself and hold someone’s gaze.

Getty/MoMo Productions
Do You Find It Challenging To Make Eye Contact?

Active Listening Cues

If maintaining eye contact is something you find challenging, it may help to utilize other body language cues in a conversation to show your partner that you are listening and attentive. Here are some active listening skills that might help:
  • Make direct eye contact without staring intensely
  • Nod your head when appropriate
  • Give occasional verbal cues like "uh-huh,” “yes,” and “hmm”
  • Lean toward your conversation partner slightly
  • Ask for clarification when you don’t understand
  • Summarize what your conversation partner said to show that you’re listening

Remember that too much intensity in eye contact can be overwhelming, so it's essential to find the right balance. Mixing active listening skills with eye contact can make it feel less intense, as you may be able to focus on other aspects of connection and communicate through them.

Therapy May Help With Eye Contact Difficulties

For some, improving eye contact skills on their own can feel challenging or even impossible. In addition, it may feel exhausting on a mental and physical level. If you find yourself experiencing moments of frustration, working with a licensed therapist may help you identify why eye contact is challenging and how you can improve this skill. For example, online therapy is a proven method for improving social skills using techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

When you choose to try online therapy rather than traditional face-to-face therapy, you may find that thousands of licensed therapists are available to assist you. They can help you learn techniques and strategies to improve your ability to make eye contact and practice them with you. In addition, it may be easier to hear constructive feedback from a neutral party, especially when they can help you process emotions and other issues.

Through the BetterHelp platform, you can expect to reach thousands of licensed therapists who are available to help you work through your difficulties. They can assist you in understanding what happened to make eye contact a challenge and teach you techniques and strategies to improve this skill. During your therapy sessions, you'll have the opportunity to practice making eye contact with varying levels of intensity, which can help you find the right balance for different situations.

Takeaway

With practice, support, and positive experiences, you may find that making eye contact is a skill you can learn to show you’re interested in conversations and build social connections. Utilizing other active listening cues, such as offering verbal affirmation to your conversation partner, leaning toward them, and nodding occasionally, can also show your interest, even if you’re not comfortable making eye contact. If you’re interested in improving your eye contact and other social skills, you might consider trying online therapy with a licensed therapist.

Seeking To Improve Your Mental Health?

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