Non Verbal Communications
April 7th, 2015
Over the past academic year, I have experienced a large amount of eye contact from people due to the fact that I am pregnant. One past experience that I remember the most was when I went to the Eastern Eateries at Eastern Michigan University for breakfast. I entered into the food section, ordered something to eat, paid for it at the cash register and walked toward a table clear across the room. As I was walking, I noticed a large amount of people who would stare at my large baby bump then look up at me. When I looked back at them, they would then realize they were staring and then turn their heads.
This one table in particular decided that they did not care that I had noticed their eye behavior. One gentleman had seen me walking and seemed very shocked. I could tell due to his eyes opening very wide as he tilted his head downward and dropped his mouth. I continued to walk and as soon as he had his fill, he smacked both of his guy friends shoulders to get their attention. The first gentleman who realized I was pregnant whispered to them and they both turned their head in my direction. Their eyes, just like the first, opened very wide and they starred all the way until I sat down. I realized they were staring so I sat my food down and walked past their table to get a straw and napkins toward the front. I could tell they were still staring because their eyes were following my every move.
I had a heightened sensitivity to this eye contact because it was very different from what I had experienced in my past. Majority of the people would usually turn their heads out of respect or because they didn’t want to get caught starring. This was different because not only did the 3 guys stare at me, but they did it in such an obvious way that other people noticed they were starring as well. I was always able to get over other people starring because they changed the direction of their eye behavior from me to something else but the gentleman stayed focused on me. I was not sure how to handle the situation and it made me feel very uncomfortable and insecure.
A time I found it to be very difficult to make eye contact with someone was when a friend and I were talking about a very serious topic which happened to be rape. The conversation started off as both of us fully engaged with very strong eye contact between one another but as our opinions were shared and stories were told, I started to feel very uncomfortable and did not want to continue talking about the topic. One of the comments my friend made had really upset me and I didn’t want to start an argument so I turned my head and changed my eye contact from her to my computer. I felt that if I no longer gave her as much eye contact, the conversation would eventually die out. As she continued to talk and state her opinions, I no longer was able to maintain any form of eye contact with her. At first, I had realized I was not giving her eye contact on purpose but as I became more and more upset, It was unintentional. I believe that it was difficult to make eye contact because of the topic and the emotions I experience during the conversation. When I feel uncomfortable talking about something or I don’t agree, I tend to look away from who is speaking at the time.
Over the past week, I conducted an experiment by slowly increasing and decreasing the amount of time I spent making eye contact. The first part of the experiment was slowly increasing the amount of eye contact. The first person I attempted this with was a cashier at the Commons Dining area on March 26th. She seemed bored because there were no customers coming in so this gave me the opportunity to try it. As she was standing at the counter, I walked up and said hello to her. I was looking at the menu and started talking about the “jerk chicken” they were serving. I informed her that I had never tried it before. She started to engage in a conversation with me and I slowly increased eye contact. Our conversation was going very well and I could tell she felt comfortable by the expressions on her face and her eye contact as well. When I started to increase the eye contact, everything changed. She started breaking the eye contact by looking up or away at times. I continued to increase my eye contact to the point I was staring, I could tell she felt very uncomfortable. She no longer was smiling as much and cheerful like how she was when we first started talking. She also started pointing to the menu that said “jerk chicken” as we continued to talk about it. It was very uncomfortable and difficult to me because I could tell it was making her uncomfortable. I just continued to stare at her and keep the conversation flowing until other customers entered the room. I believe she responded this way because she had probably never experienced this before. Usually customers would walk up to her, say hello, hand her their card or cash and be on their way. I not only carried on a conversation with her, but I also gave her more eye contact than I or anyone else normally would. I just continued to do what I was doing so I could get as much of a response from her as I could.
On March 28th I had a prenatal appointment at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Since I do not have an actual doctor, I am seen in the academic clinic which means that I am seen by residents who are working to get their degree. When I went to my appointment, I was called in by a nurse to have my blood work done and to get weighed. She showed me to my room where I waited for my resident. When the resident on duty came into my room, we introduced each other and she started speaking to me about what was going to happen that day. She started off looking at me very strong with a lot of eye contact. As I started to increase my eye contact, the conversation seemed normal. While we were having a normal conversation, she checked my baby’s heart beat and still maintained eye contact with me. When she was finished, she sat down and started talking to me about my progress and how my baby was sounding. I slowly started to increase my eye contact with her and she started to break it by looking away toward the walls or looking down at her paper work. When I started looking at her to the point I was staring, she had told me she was going to go get some paperwork for me so I could schedule my next appointment. After about 10 minutes, she came back into the room and I continued to stare at her. She did not give me as much eye contact as before and instead looked down at the paper work she was handing me and spoke about it quickly. She handed me my papers, looked up, smiled and left. She never returned and instead, she had the actual doctor come in (who they verify everything with) and spoke to me about my results on my former blood work. When the resident had returned with my papers, it was very hard for me to continue looking at her. I was laughing very hard inside and almost laughed out loud. Instead, I just smiled and nodded my head to everything she was saying. I believe she responded by looking down at the paper work so she did not have to keep eye contact with me.
On Easter Sunday, I was sitting on my father’s front porch and noticed his neighbor, who was in his 80’s, was slowly walking up onto the porch. I smiled at the gentleman and in return, he smiled and started a conversation with me. He mentioned how nice the weather was and how we had a very long winter. I took this as an opportunity to talk with him and so I responded back by agreeing. I started off limiting my eye contact with him by looking around in the yard and the sky as he spoke about the weather. I then started to increase my eye contact and he didn’t seem to notice it. We continued to talk about the cold weather we had and I increased my eye contact to the point I was staring at him. He did not seem to notice that I was staring. He looked at me the same amount but only broke eye contact a few times. It seemed as if our conversation was normal. I was very shocked during our conversation because he didn’t seem to be bothered by it like the other people I conducted this experiment with. He just continued to smile and talk. It made me feel more comfortable having a conversation with him because I didn’t feel pressured to continue starring. It seemed like a mutual thing. I believe we both had a comfortable conversation because we both were engaged in about the same amount of eye contact. If him or I would have starred more than the other, I feel that the conversation would have been awkward and that our conversation would have ended sooner than it did.
The second part of the experiment required me to gradually decrease the amount of eye contact during the conversations I had with people. The first person I conducted this part of the experiment with was with my father’s girlfriend’s son named Brian. On Saturday, I went to my father’s house for Easter weekend and his girlfriend’s family was there. Her older son Brian had approached me and asked me if I could do his online application to become a State Highway Patrol officer. We started talking about the information that I would possibly need to fill his application out with. I started off the conversation with full-blown eye contact and in return, he did the same. As we continued our conversation, I slowly decreased the eye contact. We continued to talk about the application and I realized the conversation was starting to die. He didn’t respond back as much and started to look around the room. He then had finished what he wanted to say, thanked me and left the room to talk to his mom in the kitchen. During our conversation, I felt really rude like I didn’t care what he had to say or like I was giving him the impression that I didn’t want to do it. I believe that he finished what he had to say and left to the other room because he felt he was getting on my nerves.
On Easter Sunday, I was also at my father’s house for dinner. I was speaking to my father’s girlfriend’s daughter about pregnancy because she had recently found out she was pregnant. We were talking about how it was funny that both of us were pregnant at the same time and how we’re both going to be mother’s this year. I started off staring at her and laughing to what she was saying. When I started to decrease the amount of eye contact, I noticed our conversation started to switch topics from being mother’s this year to having to give up things like pop and junk food. I eventually stopped all eye contact with her and continued carrying on the conversation. She then made the comment that she was going to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Before she exited the room, she mentioned that is one thing she needs to stop soon. During our conversation, I continued to smile and talk to her which kept us talking but when I decreased the eye contact, she started to ease up on the conversation. I feel that she left the room “to smoke a cigarette” because I had stopped the eye contact with her. When she left, she did it in a smart way because she related her reason for leaving the room to our topic. It didn’t seem like she was leaving because of my amount of eye contact.
On Easter Sunday, I had a conversation with my father’s girlfriend’s other son named Kenny. We were sitting in the living room talking about how I’m going to be having a baby boy. When we first started off the conversation, I started off practically staring at him. He was breaking eye contact frequently but continued the conversation with me. As we continued the conversation, I started to decrease the amount of eye contact. Our conversation seemed normal and didn’t seem to bother him. When I started to look away completely, I could tell that he had increased his eye contact a lot as if trying to get me to look at him. We continued the conversation until his 4-year-old son entered the room and he quickly got up and started playing with him. I felt really bad during this experiment with him because he was trying very hard to get me to have eye contact with him. He didn’t tell me to look at him but it’s as if he was begging for my eye contact. I wanted to look up at him at least once but I continued to look around instead. I feel that he got up with his son quickly and started playing with him so that he could have a reason to end our conversation without being rude.
On Easter Sunday, I went into the kitchen to get something to drink. Kenny’s girlfriend Jessica was in there cooking but had stopped to take a break. I started talking to her about the food and how hot the kitchen was. I started off with very strong eye contact and she barely gave me any eye contact at all. As our conversation continued, I decreased my eye contact and she leaned against the counter looking out the window and out into the living room. I then cut off all eye contact with and she continued to look around the kitchen. This experiment with her did not make me feel rude or upset because she was not giving me very much eye contact in the beginning of our conversation. I feel that she did not respond in an awkward way because she did not realize how much I was staring at her in the beginning. I feel that the temperature of the kitchen and the fact that she was standing was causing her to not focus on maintaining eye contact with me.
During these conversations, a few things had occurred that might have influenced the person who I was talking to, to respond in a different manner. During these conversations, either people entered the room or people were near by so the person had someone to break the awkwardness. If no one would have been around or entered, I believe the conversation would have been more awkward and they would have just sat there in silence. I also feel that age is an influencing factor. I realized that when I spoke to older people, they felt less uncomfortable with me staring at them than the younger people. It still made some of them uncomfortable but they didn’t seem to show their emotions as much. The last thing that I feel might have influenced the conversation was the conversation topic. If the topic was unusual, like the “jerk chicken”, it might have made the conversation more awkward which resulted in the person not knowing how to respond back. If it was more of a normal conversation, they might have responded in a different way.
Through out the experiment, I realized that there were a lot of influencing factors that contributed to the conversations and the way people responded. If there were other people around, they did not feel as uncomfortable as the people who had no one around at all. I feel that having someone in the next room or having people walk around during our conversation might have made them feel more secure during the awkward eye contact behavior. The people who had no one around during the conversation seemed to be more bothered by my eye contact behavior than the others.
One pattern that I noticed threw out all of the people I conducted the experiment with was that they always found a way to try to end or ease up the conversation. It was either by decreasing their amount of eye contact or finding something else to take their attention way so they didn’t have to just randomly end it. I feel that they did this in a particular way so that I would not get offended or that they would not feel like they were being rude to me.
Overall I noticed that the majority of people do notice the amount of eye contact during your conversation. It seems to be a big influence during the conversation. When eye contact is decreased, it seems as if the other person you are engaged in the conversation with may feel that you no longer want to continue talking. They seem to take the decreasing eye contact as a sign that you are not interested or that you may be bothered by the topic. If you continue to give a normal amount of eye contact during a conversation, both of the people in the conversation feel respected and both of their attentions are focused on one another. I’ve come to realize during this experiment that a mutual amount of eye contact is what makes or breaks a conversation. As long as you and the other person is engaged in the same amount, the conversation does not seem awkward and the environment feels comfortable. When you increase or decrease the amount of eye contact outside the norm, people tend to feel an awkwardness and respond as if they feel uncomfortable.