Here is an example: I'm talking to one of my professors, making eye contact and being engaged like a good student does, but all of a sudden I feel like I lose depth perception (I find that this happens only during one-on-one talks and if there is a wall several feet behind them) and my neck becomes tense. I'm not sure what's going on, and I feel like I absolutely have to look away because I feel physical discomfort and I think that I must look weird. However, I know it appears that I'm anxious and not paying attention, and I end up having my eyes dart around.

I'm not sure what's going on with the depth perception issue, but it's happened for a while, so I don't think it's going away anytime soon. Is it appropriate to look away when listening to someone you want to make a good impression with? If so, how often can I do it?

TL;DR: I lose depth perception when talking one-on-one with someone and it makes my body uncomfortable. Is it possible to look away but still look engaged and not nervous?

  • Is it your own diagnosis? Or are you sure you have this depth perception issue?
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:19
  • It's my diagnosis, it feels as if I have lost all depth perception, I'm not sure if that's exactly what's happening. What I do know is that making eye contact becomes very uncomfortable and I need to know if it's appropriate to look away or if I should try and ignore the feeling.
    – matryoshka
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:30

3 Answers 3


It's okay to look away every 4, 5 seconds.

If you're talking to just one person, feel free to look away every 4 or 5 seconds, but make sure to not look down, as looking down may show disinterest. Look up, or to the sides. Looking up a little will appear as though you're thinking. Besides, continuously staring into a person's eyes will be uncomfortable to them as well.

If you're just the listener, occasional "aha", "I see", etc. will be appreciated. To maintain eye contact, change your focus every 4 or 5 seconds from one of their eyes to the other, and then briefly, to their mouth, and then back to the eyes. Keep rotating the focus this way.

If you're talking to more than one person, keep changing your focus from one person's eyes to another's every one or two sentences. If you keep eye contact with only one of your listeners, the others will lose interest.

Found an article from Michigan State University Extension, "Eye contact: Don’t make these mistakes", where they summarize points from The Conversation Aid as follows:

They suggest the following tips to help maintain good eye contact without staring:

  • Use the 50/70 rule. To maintain appropriate eye contact without staring, you should maintain eye contact for 50 percent of the time while speaking and 70% of the time while listening. This helps to display interest and confidence. Maintain it for 4-5 seconds. Once you establish eye contact, maintain or hold it for 4-5 seconds. After this time passes, you can slowly glance to the side and then go back to establishing eye contact.

  • Think about where you’re looking. Maintaining eye contact is easy because you’re looking at the other person. However, when you look away, do it slowly without darting your eyes. This can make you look shy or nervous. And don’t look down; remember to look from side-to-side. Looking down can give the appearance that you lack confidence.

  • Establish eye contact right away. Before you begin talking, establish eye contact. Don’t look down or look at something before you begin speaking. Establish eye contact right away and then begin talking.

  • Listening with your eyes is important too: Remember the 70 percent rule (you should maintain eye contact for 70 percent of the time while listening)? Communication happens with your eyes while you’re listening just as much as when you’re talking. Remember that while you’re listening and maintaining eye contact, you should smile, open your face and look interested.

  • Practice. Eye contact will come easy to some, but if it doesn’t for you, it’s okay to practice until you become confident. You can look at an eyebrow or the space between the eyes and mouth. You can also practice with yourself in the mirror.

This article is the third and last in a series of articles that examined eye contact in communication. Remember that eye contact is a skill and it often takes time and practice to fine-tune our skills.

  • Does looking at someone's mouth when they talk appear to be somewhat "sensual?" I remember reading that when someone is looking at your mouth when you talk it's a sign that they are attracted to you.
    – matryoshka
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:43
  • @Grace It can be misunderstood. Yes. So keep it brief.
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 19:43

Adding an additional perspective to the answer of NVZ:

A while back I found a very useful advice on Quora about practicing eye contact. Unfortunately I did not find the source just now and I might have adapted it a bit.

It goes like this: For a week, every day you're out, try to notice and write down the eye color of strangers you encounter - the bus driver, the cashier at the supermarket, the server at your restaurant etc. (A contemporaneous smile will assert that it is not creepy.) Set a weekly goal of how many eye colors you want to write down and try to reach it. It doesn't have to be mutual eye contact. Just try to determine the eye color. The idea behind this small game is that doing this over an extended period of time might help you be more used and thus more comfortable looking people in the eyes.

Maybe by getting more used to these small eye contacts with strangers on a daily basis, you also gain the comfort to retain eye contact with people in face-to-face conversations.


One quick addition I'd make with respect to looking down. I agree it can convey weakness, especially when you're the speaker. However, if you are a student listening to your professor, you may wish to take notes on the answer they are giving you. This is prudent in and of itself, it conveys to the professor you value the answer he or she is giving you, and, finally, it will allow you to take your eyes away from the direct eye contact and its adverse effects you are feeling for much longer (if you need it) than simply glancing away periodically.

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