Eye contact

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Your eyes are probably your most important flirting tool. We tend to think of our eyes mainly as a means of receiving information, but they are also extremely high-powered transmitters of vital social signals. How you look at another person, meet his or her gaze and look away can make all the difference between a successful, enjoyable flirtation and an embarrassing or hurtful encounter.

Eye contact - looking directly into the eyes of another person - is such a powerful, emotionally loaded act of communication that we normally restrict it to very brief glances. Prolonged eye contact between two people indicates intense emotion, and is either an act of love or an act of hostility. It is so disturbing that in normal social encounters, we avoid eye contacts of more than one second. Among a crowd of strangers in a public setting, eye contacts will generally last only a fraction of second, and most people will avoid making any eye contact at all.

This is very good news for anyone wishing to initiate a flirtation with an attractive stranger. Even from across a crowded room at a party, you can signal your interest in someone merely by making eye contact and attempting to hold your target's gaze for more than one second (not too much more, though, or you will seem threatening). If your target maintains eye contact with you for more than one second, the chances are that he/she might return your interest. If after this initial contact, your target looks away briefly and then looks back to meet your gaze a second time, you can safely

assume that he/she is interested. If these eye contacts trigger a smile, you can approach your target with some confidence.

If, on the other hand, your target avoids making eye contact with you, or looks away after a fraction of a second and does not look back again, you should probably assume that your interest is not returned. There is still the possibility that your target is just a very shy person - and some females may be understandably wary of signalling any interest in male strangers. The only way to find out is by close observation of your target's behaviour towards others. Does she consistently avoid direct eye-contact with men? Does he seem nervous, anxious or aloof in his interactions with other women? If so, your target's reluctance to meet your gaze may be nothing personal, and it might be worth approaching, but only with considerable caution.

Once you have approached your target, you will need to make eye contact again in order to strike up a conversation. As soon as your eyes meet, you may begin to speak. Once a conversation begins, it is normal for eye contact to be broken as the speaker looks away. In conversations, the person who is speaking looks away more than the person who is listening, and turn-taking is governed by a characteristic pattern of looking, eye contact and looking away.

So, to signal that you have finished speaking and invite a response, you then look back at your target again. To show interest while your target is speaking, you need to look at his/her face about three-quarters of the time, in glances lasting between one and seven seconds. The person speaking will normally look at you for less than half this time, and direct eye contact will be intermittent, rarely lasting more than one second. When your target has finished speaking, and expects a response, he or she will look at you and make brief eye contact again to indicate that it is your turn.

The basic rules for pleasant conversation are: glance at the other person's face more when you are listening, glance away more when you are speaking and make brief eye contact to initiate turn-taking. The key words here are 'glance' and 'brief: avoid prolonged staring either at the other person or away.

The most common mistake people make when flirting is to overdo the eye contact in a premature attempt to increase intimacy. This only makes the other person feel uncomfortable, and may send misleading signals. Some men also blow their chances by carrying on a conversation with a woman's breasts, rather than looking at her face.

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