How speakers create anxiety in listeners, part 1

Just as common as speakers being anxious when talking is listeners feeling anxiety with speakers.

Today’s focus is on the anxiety we listeners get when speakers don’t look at us – not to be confused with speakers from cultures who take extended eye contact to mean an affront or challenge of authority.

In the United States and other European countries like Spain, France, and Germany, using direct eye contact is accepted and considered to be a sign of attentiveness, honesty, confidence, and respect for what the other is saying. (Maggie Pazian, So when listeners are in these countries, with someone speaking to them, they appreciate eye contact, especially when the talker is not being pushy or mean-spirited.

When we don’t get eye contact it’s too easy for us to assume the worst. That the speaker doesn’t like us, isn’t paying attention to us or doesn’t care what we think. Body language accounts for the majority of the experience we have with people (reportedly anywhere from 55 – 90% of our experience stems from nonverbal cues). And the eyes are the key source of how we feel – Pazian suggests there are 7 key ways our eyes or areas around the eyes change based on emotions felt. So when a speaker is sparse about using eye contact, we feel cheated.

Sure, there could be any number of things going on with the speaker that we don’t know about as listeners – their energy is low, they have a headache, they are in their head about something unrelated to us, they lack confidence, or they just keep to themselves. But these selfish communication habits breed distrust and negative experiences for listeners.

If you want to appeal to your listeners, look at them. Practice doing so and you’ll eventually determine how long of a look is useful and how long feels pushy or uncomfortable to them. Speakers who avoid eye contact when in conversation with folks or even when speaking to a group seriously impair their own credibility while making listeners anxious. On the other hand, speakers who practice eye contact help listeners break down anxiety barriers and build engagement and trust.

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