Eye contact is a way of communicating with others. Depending on which cultural situation an individual is in, eye contact gives out different signals. Appropriate eye contact levels differ from culture to culture.
Diverse Eye Contact Cultures:
America: Visual contact is encouraged in the United States of America. If you look at someone in the eye, while speaking to him or her, you come across as confident, trustworthy and interested. Frequently glancing away from the person or refusing to make contact can signal low self-confidence, disinterest and a suspicious character. However, in Mexico, eye contact sustained too long is viewed negatively and suspiciously.
Europe: In most areas of Europe, looking into a person’s eyes while conversing is seen as a mark of respect. However, this is brief contact. In many areas, consistent contact may be negatively viewed. In England, some amount of contact is necessary, but too much makes people uncomfortable. In other areas such as France and Spain, visual contact customs are similar to those in America.
Middle East: Middle-Eastern societies, largely Muslim, require less contact than those in the European and American societies. Many cultures have laws dictating that women should not make visual contact with men. However, intense visual contact between two people of the same gender, usually men, signals sincerity and a plea to believe.
Asia, Africa and Latin America: Here, sustained contact can be perceived as a challenge or affront to authority. Students are not encouraged to hold visual contact with teachers, children with parents or inferiors with superiors. This is simply to show respect and not disinterest.
Eyes are the windows to the soul and thus, visual contact is a powerful means of communication. To avoid misunderstandings, one must know the culture he/she is interacting with and accordingly has to adapt the eye contact.