When it comes to public speaking, there are a few pieces of advice we hear over and over again: Know your audience. Come prepared. Make eye contact.
OK, great, but for a variety of reasons, not everyone is able to make eye contact while addressing a group, or having a one-on-one conversation. And given the fact that we’ve spent the past year cooped up in our homes and interacting with people through our computer screens, even those who were comfortable making eye contact before may need a minute to get used to it again.
But what if you’re speaking with someone who doesn’t make eye contact? Should you push through and keep looking them in the eye, or follow their lead and look elsewhere? In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Caroline Bologna spoke with communication experts to find out how to navigate a tricky eye contact situation.
Tips for speaking with someone who doesn’t make eye contact
Before getting into specifics, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that not all cultures have the same rules and standards when it comes to eye contact.
“We place a lot of emphasis on eye contact, especially in American culture,” psychotherapist Annette Nunez told the Huffington Post. And because it’s not always possible to research a person and their background before having a conversation with them, when in doubt, follow their lead.
Other tips for having a conversation with someone who doesn’t make eye contact discussed in Bologna’s article include:
- Don’t take it personally if a person you’re speaking with doesn’t make eye contact with you.
- Approach the conversation with kindness and empathy.
- Accommodate the other person’s conversation style (including their eye contact, or lack thereof).
- Instead of sitting face-to-face, change the setting and/or the position of the conversation, like talking a walk, or looking over the same document.
- Be aware of whether you’re monopolizing the conversation (and don’t do it).
Basically, be patient and kind and roll with it.