Eye contact, smiling and communicating interest?
April 1, 2007 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Eye contact, smiling and how to be more approachable?

What I'm trying to figure out is how to communicate interest to others and seem more approachable, particularly when it comes to eye contact and smiling.

I am quite shy and have the hardest time looking strangers in the eye. Sometimes I'll be out at a cafe or on the street and a guy will be looking or even staring at me and even if I *want* them to approach me I look away. Once someone is talking to me I have no problem looking them in the eye...I just have trouble communicating interest initially.

First of all, I live in the northeast where people are pretty reserved and not very friendly. Second, I'm not sure how long to look people in the eye to communicate openess or interest without it seeming strange. Also, do I need to smile at the same time (if I don't, it will seem unfriendly, right?). Finally, I'm scared they will look away or think I'm desperate, so the way I avoid that is by just keeping a blank look on my face much of the time. I'm sure this comes across as disinterest, but that's not what I want to convey.

I know I'm overthinking this, but humor me, Mefites ;) It's not easy being an introvert in an extrovert's world.
posted by mintchip to Human Relations (15 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
My personal rule is two instances of clearly non-incidental eye contact and I feel welcomed to come and say hello. A smile can even cut that to one, but if not, just adds to my confidence that I'm not going to make a bumbling idiot out of myself when I do come over and say hello.
posted by jckll at 7:13 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a trick to try: Look at the bridge of their nose between the eyes instead of directly into the eyes. It will make you feel more comfortable and will make the person you're trying to appear approachable to feel as though you are making direct eye contact. This doesn't work for the entire conversation, but it works well to get the cues from the person that will in turn make you feel more confident.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:30 PM on April 1, 2007

In conversations the listener maintains eye contact while the speaker looks away from time to time.

Once you get this down your love life will get much better.

But the title to your question is the best advice you can get--eye contact, smiling.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:32 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Instead of deliberately trying to appear a way that will make you seem approachable to someone you find attractive, maybe just -- look at him. Don't try to assume some pose of approachability; just allow yourself to enjoy the masculine panorama before you. I have heard that people find others most attractive when they are having a good time, and looking at hot guys is a good time, no? I suspect that men can tell when they are being objectified, but they like it.
posted by Methylviolet at 7:38 PM on April 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I understand where you're coming from, because I used to be similarly reserved and fearful.

I recommend doing this as an experiment: Pick a day. Preferaly a nice day when the weather is nice and people are in a good mood for no reason. On that day, smile and make eye contact with just about every stranger you can. Clerks, people on the street. It is your rule that you'll do this at every opportunity all day -- so you don't need to make yourself be extra bold each time. Just try it out.

At the end of the day, if you don't like it, you don't have to do it again.

But if you did find some positive, surprising effects, try it again in a week.

I think you'll find what I find -- that people are ready and willing to connect with a confident, happy, smiling face. When you take yourself out of the game by drawing down, looking at the ground, communicating with your face and body that you don't want to be approached, then people will not open up to you. When you lift your chin, look happy, and greet them as individuals, they will.

When I started doing this, the world shifted dramatically for me. A lot of what I thought was rejection or indifference was simply my own unwillingness to connect. Once I was willing to build the bridge, connection was much easier to make.

There will always be a certain minority of people who will avoid eye contact with you, resolutely stare at the ground, or even ignore a spoken 'hi' while passing. After a while, you stop taking those behaviors as reactions to you (I'm unloveable') but as the property of the other person ('that person wants to be unapproachable, and they're probably feeling pretty down about themselves, disconnected, and unhappy.').

Start from the outside and work in. Don't wait to feel different. Try something different and wait for the new feeling to come from that.
posted by Miko at 8:24 PM on April 1, 2007 [10 favorites]

p.s. I live in the Northeast too.
posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on April 1, 2007

Years ago I could have written exactly what you wrote. But one day I realized that my concerns that I wasn't interesting enough had become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I had absolutely nothing to lose by just dropping my fears and being the person I wanted to be. If I did nothing, I was guaranteed to feel like I had missed out; if I tried, the worst thing that could happen was I would feel awkward and left out, which is how I already felt anyway.

I find that most questions about how to be more interesting/approachable/beautiful/attractive have the same answer... it might not be useful in a "looking for instructions" sense, but all other answers seem to distill down to this one: be okay with being yourself.

When all is said and done, every piece of advice about I have ever heard about these issues is based on the same observation: a happy person is beautiful, interesting and approachable. If you're not happy, you won't be able to fake it... and if you are, you won't need to.
posted by foobario at 8:43 PM on April 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Much as I love Methylviolet, I will have to disagree here. Fake it until you make it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:25 PM on April 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Second what Miko said. I'm still pretty shy, but a couple days of saying a simple "good morning" to most of the people I see helped me out quite a bit.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 8:48 PM on April 1, 2007

I heard once that looking away after somebody of the opposite sex makes eye contact was a more common indicator that somebody likes you. I certainly take it as an indicator, because what matters isn't that you look down afterwards, it's that they were looking at that person in the first place. Which means that it's better to be looking at that person first, not discovering that they're looking at you.

On the other hand, if they're looking at you first, it's okay to look down or away, but just so long that you maintain the eye contact for a moment longer than you would otherwise. This may be just half a second, but it can be enough to be construed as meaningful. Even better if you can smile at them as well, but it's not an absolute requirement and, you know, baby steps...

At the end of the day, you're just trying to make yourself more approachable, so there're more important obstacles. You're behaviour alone wouldn't stop me from approaching you, but other things might. Your being with friends, for example. It takes a lot of confidence to approach a stranger while they're sitting with their friends, and since it rarely goes down well for us, we don't often do it (unless intoxicated).

Want to be more approachable to guys, be more alone near the person who has gauged your interest: Linger at the bar for slightly longer than usual when you're buying drinks, detach yourself slightly from your friends on the dance floor, step outside or onto the balcony for some fresh air.
i.e. make openings, because these are the situations guys are really looking for.

Oh, and smiling at somebody will never invoke thoughts that you're being desperate (unless they're assholes). People will just think you're friendly.

*sigh* not easy being an extrovert with all these introverts around ;-)
posted by kisch mokusch at 10:29 PM on April 1, 2007

Social Issues Research Centre Guide to Flirting. Seriously, this is an eye-opener.

posted by eritain at 10:33 PM on April 1, 2007

how about you just occupy yourself with a suitably absurd mental question, like "if that person were a donut, what kind of donut would they be?" - you'll be so busy trying to figure out the answer that you'll fail to notice that they're now looking straight at you & you're supposed to be looking away, at least according to your normal reaction to things.

the danger is that even if this helps you maintain eye contact, you might find yourself wondering whether you really like strawberry-jam-filled donuts that much...
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:09 PM on April 1, 2007

i kinda like the t-shirt at the bottom of this page
Just Shy from XKCD
it could solve your problem on days you wear it!
posted by baserunner73 at 1:17 AM on April 2, 2007

I like methylviolet's answer.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:12 AM on April 2, 2007

In my experience, it's not the length of eye contact, but the frequency that counts. This is the strategy that I used back in my long-ago single days *sigh*, and it worked almost without fail. Here's an example.

Let's say there's a guy across the room checking you out. You glance at him to see if he's cute and briefly make eye contact #1 then look away, just like you do now.

You decide you like what you saw. In the next few minutes you continue with your meal, conversation, book, whatever you're otherwise doing at the time, but regularly flick your gaze back over to him. If he's interested, he'll be looking your way too and eye contact #2 will occur. If you feel comfortable at this point, a quick smile works here. You can still keep it brief though, no need to extend any longer than you are comfortable with.

Again, return to whatever you are doing, but glancing at him on occasion. When eye contact #3 occurs, hold his gaze a *little* longer with a warm smile, then drop it again and return to what you were doing. Again, no need to start a staring contest here, just the mere fact that you were both seeking eye contact confirms the interest, not the length of time it is maintained.

It usually only takes two or three instances of eye contact to get the message across, but feel free to continue the pattern of glance, eye contact, smile, look away for however many times you like. It adds to the fun!

The nice thing about this strategy is it weeds out most chance of mistaken intent. If either you or he are not interested, repeated eye contact will be avoided rather than seeked out, eliminating the chance of accidentally misinterpreting a single instance. The only caveat is that this really only works if you are in the same place for a bit of time, although I suppose you could speed the process up a bit when passing a hottie in the street.

Good luck, and enjoy!
posted by platinum at 1:36 PM on April 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

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