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Avoiding eye contact is usually bad news.

Avoiding eye contact is usually bad news.

The eyes can also signal that someone is closed-off. We turn our heads when we wish to avoid being singled out in a lecture hall or boardroom meeting. To represent a closed attitude we might pull our chins in and tuck our heads down. In theory this is to protect our vulnerable necks from attack so it also indicates and fearful state. When we wish to scold children we make sure they give us full eye contact in order to measures their reaction and to ensure they’ve given us their undivided attention. This trait is culturally specific however, as some parents require that children avoid eye contact precisely for the same reason other parents require it; to show respect for authority.

That being said, a lack of direct eye contact during a conversation is not always to be taken as a negative cue or rejection. Research has shown that concentrating on faces takes a lot of effort so we look away in order to properly analyze what is being said. Looking away is also a signal that we are comfortable with our company because we can safely look away with no risk of being attacked. In other words, looking away shows that we trust those around us. As such, looking away is a “comfort display.” The distinction between rude eye avoidance and a comfort display should be obvious. For example, dropping the eyes in order to focus on picking the dirt from beneath the nails to “preen”, removing lint from clothing while avoiding a topic, or glazing over expressionless in boredom is not the same as looking away during a conversation to focus more deeply.

While this type of eye avoidance is normal and acceptable in casual situations, do avoid it during job interviews as potential employers have noted they prefer candidates to focus on them rather than casting their gaze all over their office as if they own it. In a subordinate dominant situation freely moving eyes leave bad impressions and make potential employees appear disinterested which turn interviewers off.