Eye Contact

If you want to persuade someone, should you look them in the eye?  Maybe not.

You may have heard that when you want to make a point, you should look someone in the eye.  Bosses, politicians, car salesmen—they all tend to use direct eye contact when they’re trying to convince others that their position is the most valid.

But according to Forbes Magazine, new research has found that may backfire on them.  It turns out that they should probably cast their glance in a different direction.

Julia Minson is a psychologist at Harvard who studies group decision making and negotiations.  She realized that no one had studied the conventional wisdom—that staring at someone will make them more likely to see your point of view.

When it comes to persuasion, Dr. Minson points out that in the past, researchers have mainly looked at interactions from the perspective of the speaker.  The person doing the speaking almost always feels he’s getting his point across if he’s making eye contact.

So Dr. Minson and her colleague tested the idea that eye contact can win over people who disagree with the speaker.

What they found is that people respond more favorably to opposing arguments when the speaker looks at an angle to the recipient or focuses his eyes on the other person’s mouth instead of his eyes.

Minson says she wasn’t totally surprised by their results. Those who study animal behavior have proved that many species, like dogs, control others by staring them down and then attacking.

By the way, the researchers didn’t test this theory on parents and children.  In that case, I think the old adage “look at me when I’m talking to you!” still applies!


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