“It’s not polite to stare.” is a fairly common phrase we hear. It makes people feel uncomfortable. But why? Why do we have to feel uncomfortable that someone is ACTUALLY paying close attention to what we’re saying? Don’t we think it’s rude if they don’t look at us when we were talking?
Trying not keep eye contact in conversation is a subconscious thing now. If someone is talking to me, I look away every few seconds without asking why and never wondering why no one ever asked if I was thinking about something else instead of the person in front of me.
These thoughts have been around for awhile and when I read about breeching experiments in Sears & Cairns book (Chpt. 4) I realized what an awesome experiment constant eye-contact would be! We have assumptions on what is appropriate to do in a conversation and what is not.
I stared (hardcore) at my sister while she was explaining an assignment to me. Initially she hadn’t noticed because she had been looking away periodically as she was talking. However, while I responded to her, her breaks in eye contact became much more frequent and lasted longer. Finally she asked what I had been looking at, touching her face and glancing behind her. She looked a bit out of sorts. I asked her if “this” (referring to the staring) was weird. She shrugged and simply said, “It’s not polite to stare.”
Later I had asked her why the staring was weird. It made her self-conscious but she wasn’t exactly sure why. She had never put much thought into because it was just something she (and many other people, she noted) had always done.