Take a moment to think about how much face time and eye contact we give our phones and devices every day. Then take another moment to think about how often we really look into the eyes of our partner, our children, or the clerk at the store.
Scanning the local favorite breakfast spot recently, I saw 14 tables of people with their faces in their phones and only 1 table where the friends were actually looking at each other. That table was full of energy, lively conversation and real honest to goodness eye contact. The other tables were expressionless and quiet. People were sitting next to each other gazing at iPads and although each person may have had a different reaction to what they were watching, there was no interaction. Body language gave a good indication of how they were feeling, but no one in their group saw it.
I’d had a similar experience at a children’s park with my grandchildren. Parents were staring at their phones while their children were swinging from the monkey bars, jumping off the swings and experimenting with new ways to traverse the winding sliding boards. Had one of these children fallen or wandered off, their parents would have never noticed. Even when the kids were joyfully yelling to mom or dad to “watch this”, few looked up from their devices.
There was a young man in the ocean yesterday with his phone in hand, staring at it while waist deep in water, without a clue that a large wave was headed his way!
We stare at the card reader at the grocery checkout, waiting for the prompts to insert a credit card or enter a PIN number, chatting with the clerk but never really looking at her. The experience becomes more like self-checkout and we miss an opportunity to engage with another person.
For several months, I have been noticing how little we make eye contact with others. I’m as guilty as the next of being preoccupied and multi-tasking as I go through my day, so I decided to challenge myself to be more present, make eye contact and pay greater attention to the body language of others.
At first it was hard. I realized that mindlessness habits I’d developed were stealing precious moments from me. Turning my full attention to my small granddaughter rather than washing dishes, I watched her entire face light up with pure joy as she clapped her hands in delight over a small personal accomplishment of her own. Looking into each other’s eyes at that moment was like adding fireworks!
Putting down my phone and facing my daughter when she was asking for my help revealed so much more than just her request. What I noticed in her body language let me know that she needed a hug and some reassurance as much as she needed help with a clogged sink and a crying baby after another sleepless night. Face to face, eye to eye attention has the power to change a situation in a very positive way. We actually ended up laughing about the juggling acts of motherhood. Its pretty remarkable how eye contact and human connection shifts feeling overwhelmed to feeling supported.
A lot of misunderstandings in our relationships could be minimized or even avoided if we took the time to look into another’s eyes. It’s a fact that we make a strong neurological connection with each other when we give eye contact.
Observe someone’s facial expressions, posture, or other body language — that’s where the real story lies. Often what we see tells us so much more than the words we are hearing.
I follow The Pact Institute Blog to learn more about neurobiology and relationships.
One invaluable tool that is used by PACT therapists to resolve issues in relationships is changing your physical position when a conflict arises. Go sit next to your partner or child. Face them directly and look into their eyes.
I’ve witnessed an angered spouse relax a bit when their partner put the phone down and gave them undivided attention. It had a calming effect even before the conflict discussion began. Why? Because the angered spouse felt valued and seen.
I’ll let you in on a little secret — when we stop what we are doing (like putting the phone down) and turn our attention to the other person, we also avoid feeling annoyed that we are now distracted from whatever we were doing. We’ve made a conscious decision to make our partner or our child a priority over that text, email or podcast. Again, that is another positive neurological reaction firing in our brain. It makes us feel good.
In recent discussions with family and friends, it seems that social media and our devices are keeping us plugged in yet not really feeling connected. Giving our full attention to our loved ones and friends will strengthen our relationships and enrich our lives as we rediscover that human connection.
And who knows, you just might make a new friend if you actually look at and interact with another person at the coffee shop.