Tag Archive for Inanimate Objects

The Unblinking Eyes



Research shows us that a steady stare of more than ten seconds creates anxiety and discomfort especially in subordinates. When done on more dominant individuals it can lead to feelings of aggression and in extreme cases, even physical altercations.

Holding eye contact for slightly longer than normal can send a powerful message. When looking at strangers, it’s a common courtesy to look away when the eyes meet, at least after a few milliseconds have elapsed. Staring is only permitted while looking at inanimate objects (and celebrities). By holding an extended or even unblinking gaze toward strangers, we are telling them that we think of them no more important than objects, a phenomenon celebrities know only too well. Naturally, eye contact and staring means one thing to men, and something else entirely to women. When the sexes stare at each other, it’s usually due to competitiveness or envy, as in, sizing up the competition and other times out of pure curiousity. When the sexes stare at each other, it’s usually driven by sexual interest, however, women are far less prone to staring in any case.

We covered proper eye gaze patterns in an earlier chapter and saw that the intimate gaze happens when the eyes travel around the face and body of someone we care about. Staring, on the other hand, is unmoving. The eyes are piercing and intense, unblinking, and seem to want to penetrate the eyes of another. An aggressive stare is even more intense and happens by narrowing the eyelids creating a deep focus. Second to the unblinking eyes is the “slow blink”. This one can be imagined, but must really be seen to understand its true intensity. While a slow blink done with a tilt of the head can appear alluring when done by an attractive woman, it does nothing to arouse positive emotions when done head on. The slow blink is intensified by tilted the head forward revealing the crown, and especially intense when the head is tilted backwards while looking down at an opponent “through” the bridge of the nose. The final cue in the slow blink cue cluster is pursed lips and the cue cluster, as a whole, signals disapproval and contempt.

You’ve probably never made conscious the universal “stare test” but it goes something like this. First you use proper eye language cast around a busy room, perhaps a grocery store, horizontally focusing on whatever is of interest. By accident, you make eye contact with someone and to show that you are no threat, you quickly shift your eyes to the left or right and continue a normal eye pattern. If no “eye flash” happens, as we saw earlier, we understand them to be a stranger. To make sure you haven’t been targeted by eye assault, you return your gaze after a few moments to see if that person is still fixated on you. If they are, you drop eye contact again, but then quickly look back. If eye contact is met again, this will set you on alert, and so you begin a very minor fight or flight response by keeping your distance. At a subconscious level you have identified a possibly dangerous individual.

This isn't going well - she looks right through him.

This isn’t going well – she looks right through him.

We call the appropriate eye contact that doesn’t violate someone’s privacy the “moral looking time.” This is the length of time gaze is permitted before creating anxiety through offensiveness and in strangers is usually only one or two seconds. To be sure that you aren’t still being assaulted by someone else you will usually repeatedly look in the direction of the person who caught your eyes several times, and at random intervals. This is because we all subconsciously realize that the other person is measuring the same threat in us, as we are in them. If their eyes are continuously met with yours, you will show aggressive or “rude” facial expressions as a warning to cease eye contact. Women do this type of expression best and we call them “dirty looks.” They are meant to indicate a desire to be left alone, and that conversation and approaching is not welcome. Other times, women will know that staring is taking place but will purposely avoid eye contact. Just because a dirty look hasn’t been given, does not mean she hasn’t noticed, and does not mean that staring is welcomed. When eye contact is avoided, and gaze pattern rules aren’t properly engaged, the intent of this message is the same, give women space and don’t stare!

Audience Eye Contact

When presenting to an audience it can be intimidating to hold eye contact, but it’s a necessary condition for delivering a message effectively. Eye contact need not be met with each individual person in an extremely large audience because most people won’t be able to distinguish specific eye direction anyway. Depending on the size of the crowd and the distance at which the presenter speaks, eye contact made at one person might seem to be directed at as many as five or even fifteen people surrounding them.

To make eye contact easier when addressing a crowd, you should centre out someone that you find less intimidating as the first person to make eye contact with. As people make their way into the room and as you organize, you’ll have plenty of time to centre someone out. Generally, this person should be at the center of the audience. Next you should choose at least one person in every corner of the room from which you can jump back in forth over the course of the presentation. If you find this intimidating, you can choose inanimate objects such as an exit sign or an empty chair to focus on or you can direct your gaze above their eyes such as to their foreheads or their hair instead. Your introduction is your first impression and is therefore the most crucial time during the presentation to make eye contact.

As the size of the group grows, it becomes more difficult to make a solid connection, making eye contact even more important. The nature of addressing larger groups says that we generally address them from further away than we would a smaller group. This is especially the case for groups larger than fifty. Groups with two, to about fifteen, should make it easy to make eye contact with everyone, so a good solid attempt should be made to do just that. If you accomplish this, the impression will be the strongest possible. You never really know which people will yield the most constructive interactions at the end of your presentation, so you will want to keep all avenues open.

While answering a question be sure to hold eye contact with the inquirer directly, rather than the audience at larger, especially when you first begin to respond. If the material turns into something that is of general audience interest, feel free to resume eye contact with the rest of the people. Eye contact should be held with each audience member momentarily instead of shifting from person to person hastily. Ideally, you will shift your view from person to person to emphasis points or transitions in your speech. Your rate of speech should be slower than the rate at which you would speak to a friend since any missed information can’t be easily or quickly clarified with questions. Also be sure to vary the rate of your speech, the tone and the pitch thereby avoiding monotony.

People As Objects

This body doesn't want to be noticed or disturbed, it has mentally checked out.

This body doesn’t want to be noticed or disturbed, it has mentally checked out.

This is a comfortable body ready for action.

This is a comfortable body ready for action.

When invasion of personal space is unavoidable such as crowded elevators, buses, trains, or amusement parks people tread invaders as inanimate objects in effort to tolerate them.

This is why city streets are flooded with strangers behaving like zombies with expressionless faces as they hurry about. City folk seem inhuman and unemotional, detached, despondent and more than anything else, from an outsider’s perspective, they appear unhappy. Contrast this with a small city where eye contact is met with smiles, nods or waves and where doors are held open for others with words such as “thank you” provided in exchange.

So why do busily moving city slickers seem as though they are moving about a forest of trees, instead of a sea of actual living human beings with emotions and feelings? Why do city slickers dehumanize themselves? The answer lies in phenomenon termed “masking.” Masking is a coping strategy used to detach ourselves from our bodies so as to avoid negative feelings as we intrude on the personal space of others and as our personal space is intruded upon. Sometimes we even mask with outwardly aggressive emotions typified by New York streets. Cussing, yelling and other carrying on is a way to mask sensitivity and to hide caring. This is not to say that one becomes less human in New York, it just means that you can’t appear to be a wimp.

Masking helps people protect themselves from their emotions and is so potent that it is difficult sometimes to snap people from this hypnosis. Sometimes even making eye contact with others can be seen as offensive and returned only with an expressionless face, a glare, or even a snarl as if implying that the issue is that of another and not theirs.

Just like country folk expect and appreciate amicable greetings, smiles, waves and nods, city slickers expect and appreciate emotionless faces, few or no greetings and for people to mind their own business. Don’t confuse either situation for anything other than a coping mechanism. Taken in similar context, you might just see how similar each breed of people really is.

Here is a breakdown of ways we act in crowded places like subways and elevators:
[A] We stand or sit still, unmoving. The more crowded the area, the more frozen we remain.
[B] The face becomes blank and expressionless, but it is not due to negative thoughts but rather as a coping mechanism.
[C] Eye contact is avoided by looking at the floor or ceiling.
[D] Books, newspapers and other devices appear particularly interesting and immersive, serving to detach the self emotionally from the situation.
[E] Under extremely crowded conditions where touching is unavoidable, bodies appear to jostle to make space and if possible only allow shoulders and elbows to touch.

Personal Space Distances

There are four distances by which people interact. They are the “intimate distance” where only about eight inches or less separates two people, the “personal distance” from eighteen inches to five feet, the “social distance” which is from five to ten feet and the “public distance” which is from ten feet to twenty-five feet. We tolerate intimate distances for embracing, touching, or whispering from sexual partners, family members and occasionally, even friends. Personal space is reserved for good friends and those we have a fairly high level of trust. The social distance is reserved for acquaintances that we perhaps don’t fully trust yet, but otherwise need to interact with, and the public distance is that which we use to address large audiences.

An arm is extended to indicate that personal space is being violated and protect a personal space bubble.

An arm is extended to indicate that personal space is being violated and protect a personal space bubble.

Our personal space, the area next to our bodies, which we protect against intrusion, has been referred to as a “bubble”, since it encircles us, but it more closely resembles a cylinder. The cylinder encompasses our entire bodies, from our feet to our head. It is this cylinder that we protect rigorously, and when it is violated we tense up or back away so as to reduce or prevent additional overlap from the cylinders of others. Our personal space isn’t totally fixed either. It is constantly expanding and contracting depending on our environment and company. For example, we permit children, pets, and inanimate objects into our personal space regularly because we do not perceive them as a threat, but other adults must earn our trust before entering. Our personal space tolerances are directly related to the strength of our relationship.

When space is invaded, we pull back.

When space is invaded, we pull back.

In basic terms, our personal space zone is the perimeter that we feel is suitable to act as a buffer should a dangerous situation arise. It provides us with enough time and space, we think, to react and mount a defensive posture to protect ourselves from an attack. In a busy public area, we might tolerate (although not prefer) moderate contact due to space limitations, but when space is abundant we see even mild intrusions as a predictors of an attack. Our personal space zone, therefore, is an early warning system that we use to help us predict the intensions of others.

These zones and distances are not immutable and universal, but are meant as a guide or rule of thumb. Everyone has different levels of comfort based upon their upbringing, personality type, gender, age and so forth. The summary listed below is a guideline that is meant for those living in areas such as Australia, Canada, United States, Great Britain and New Zealand or other westernized countries such as Iceland and Singapore or Guam. For other countries not listed, the zones may expand or contract based on the inverse of their density. For example, Japan and China which have a high density have smaller intimate zone distances. There is an inverse correlation to each zone, where the greater the population density, the tighter the zones.

The safest way to test a person’s need for personal space is to move close, lean in, give a hearty but not overly aggressive handshake, then take a step back to allow the person to either move in closer to shrink the space between you and them or take a step backward, to suite a larger than average personal space requirements. Too often people will move in too tight and overshadow someone else only to make them uncomfortable. If someone requires less space, they won’t feel offended to take up the space between you, and if you care anything about them, you won’t feel a need to step backwards either. Shrinking space is a way for people to tell you that they enjoy you, and your company, and one that you should not take offense to, but rather use as a measure of someone’s level of comfort.

Personal Space Distances

Personal Space Distances

1. Intimate zone – eight inches and less. This is our intimate space which we protect vigorously. We permit only those we trust emotionally to enter including parents, children, friends, lovers, relatives and pets. Lovers (and pets) are the only ones we permit to enter for any length of time, the rest we allow entry for only short instances such as for hugs.

2. Personal zone – eight inches to five feet. This is the distance from which we communicate to acquaintances; those we have achieved some level of trust. Examples include bosses and fellow employees, friends of friends, and so forth.

3. Social zone – five feet to ten feet. Normal for people on a first encounter such as people on the street asking for directions, a clerk at a store, strangers at a supermarket and other people we don’t know very well. Here we struggle between conflicting needs, one is to maintain enough space for comfort and the other is to be close enough to communicate effectively.

4. Public zone – ten feet to twenty-five feet. This is the zone at which it is comfortable to address a large group of people or audience during a presentation or speech. Even if we know all the members of the group well, we still maintain a greater distance from them so we can easily address all of them and keep everyone in our field of view. This could be an evolutionary adaptation since a large group could easily contain rogue defectors. By getting too close to an audience we risk surprise attack which is why we feel more comfortable with a wider buffer. Then again, it could simply be a function of judging the efficacy of our speech by measuring the audience’s reaction.