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Recently, I've been talking to someone that is cross-eyed, and his face has a pretty visible scar as well. These talks are mainly at lunchtime when there's more than 1 person present. Whenever he's talking, I try to maintain eye contact or look at his face, as I normally would when having a conversation including multiple people.

I'm generally not awkward at making eye contact, I don't stare or make people uncomfortable. But this person seems to feel uncomfortable with eye contact nonetheless. Sometimes they seem to suddenly be aware that someone is looking at their face, resulting in them shortly making eye contact before looking down and stuttering a bit. After a while, the conversation continues as usual, but usually with them keeping their head down and not looking at whoever they are conversating with.

I'm not sure how to deal with this. I don't want to make them uncomfortable. Looking away when he looks at me seems like a bad option that would really send a message of 'oops, I got caught staring at your remarkable face' which I'm really not, I'm just making the regular eye contact I make with everyone. Not looking at their face at all seems to me like it would seem that I'm treating them differently because of their look, which also seems wrong to me.

How do I properly handle eye contact with someone with distinctive facial features, that seems uncomfortable from time to time with this eye contact?

  • 3
    Are you able to talk with the guy directly in a 1:1 without others around? Perhaps a quiet private discussion might clarify what he prefers. – user5267 May 28 at 11:07
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    @Criggie this is one of those situations where I'd like to know if there's a proper way to do so without having a 1:1. The guy is not a close coworker, so even though it might be possible it's likely going to be awkward... and to be honest, I was hoping for something that's broadly applicable to acquaintances and maybe even strangers too. – Tinkeringbell May 28 at 11:27
  • Would sitting right next to this person be a possibility? This way, it would be normal not to have eye contact. – Eric Duminil May 28 at 18:36
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    @EricDuminil Even sitting next to a person you can have eye contact. While I agree that it might solve something in some cases, it still won't answer the times when this isn't possible, so feel free to assume the question is about those times when it would be normal to make eye contact. – Tinkeringbell May 28 at 18:48
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You can't.

That is not an issue that you can resolve. They are not very comfortable with how they look themselves. Eventually, they will get around this, but there is nothing you can do immediately, which would not make them even more uncomfortable.

The best you can do, is to treat them like you treat everybody else. Don't remind them in any way about their facial feature. That makes it even worse. These people need to realize, that their facial feature is not bad, they need to realize, that they are not different, because of how they look.

If they are feeling extraordinary uncomfortable, they need to tell you. You can't read their minds.

So to sum it up: Treat them like you treat everybody else. They need to act if they are too uncomfortable. Respect their wishes.

Source:

Few little scars as well as a red dot in my eye. At first wasn't too comfortable, but over time that faded away.

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    I'm curious though... when you were still uncomfortable with your appearance, did you prefer people to just treat you like normal, or is that only something you realized after you came to terms with it? Did you react the same as this coworker does to people making eye-contact with them, by deliberately breaking contact? Did it help if people looked away, or focused on other things than you, after such a reaction? Or did it only make you feel worse? – Tinkeringbell May 27 at 17:35
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    Mostly I realized that after I came to terms with it. In the cases I "forgot" about these marks while talking to someone it was good if they didn't remind me of them in any way. I wouldn't attribute breaking eye-contact to the marks only. Enough people just feel uncomfortable with with it anyways. Yet, at first I broke broke contact out of shame. It helped the conversation if they kept going like nothing happened. This way they showed me that there is no need to be ashamed etc. What made me feel worse was when people asked about it after I broke eye-contact – XtremeBaumer May 28 at 6:17
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    @Tinkeringbell "Like normal" is poorly defined for virtually everybody. People rarely think about their "ordinary" behavior enough to be able to replicate it precisely in a situation where they have to actively try to do so, and for that to even maybe work requires both parties to act "normally". I worked for years in a hospital, with people with various facial features and behavioral conditions that precluded "normal" eye contact-- if the other person isn't in sync with "normal", you won't be either, and it's extremely difficult to assertively behave "normally". – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica May 29 at 16:06
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Being on the autism spectrum, eye contact is uncomfortable for me. I've long had trouble with making it and holding it. Over the last several years, I've had to learn to make eye contact because it's required for interacting with most people in my daily life. I've developed a few tricks that make it easier for me, which will also apply to your situation.

What I do

When I have to make eye contact for anything longer than a passing glance, I end up not holding it. Instead, I constantly shift my gaze, never lingering in one spot for more than a few seconds, with the exception of their eyes. When my gaze falls on their eyes, I will hold eye contact for several seconds as I talk to them, and then let my eyes move away again. The key is to always have your eyes moving, without staring at any one thing. As I've been doing this, I've received a decent amount of feedback from people that know about my autism, that I've gotten very good at eye contact.

In addition, I've had many conversations with people that have various "distinct facial features" like you've mentioned, and I've never had them be uncomfortable.

  • I'm pretty sure 'normal' people don't think I'm staring at them ;) Like I said in the question, I don't make other people nervous with my way of eye contact, I've only noticed it with just this one person. I usually do follow the approach you mention here, moving my eyes without staring at one thing. Glancing away is alternated with looking in their direction, or looking at other people speaking. So while this seems very good guidance for eye contact in general, I don't think it'll help with the specifics of this person. – Tinkeringbell May 27 at 17:32
7

My face has nothing particular. However, I sometimes feel like someone is looking at me too intensely and it makes me uncomfortable, nervous and unable to think as well as I usually do.

When this happens, all I want the other person to do is to stop looking at me, just for a second. I just want to be able to breathe again without feeling like every blink of my eyes are under scrutiny.

When this happens, I don't really care where people look at, as long as it's not me. Looking at some food, an item in the table, a window, etc.. it's all the same to me.

If you want to do that as naturally as possible, you can act like you are looking away because you are thinking.

However, and this is where things become complicated, I dislike when the other person entirely stop looking at me (or is not looking at me enough). It makes me feel like they don't care about what I'm saying.

So, what you want to do here is: look at the person for "a bit", then look somewhere else (but not too long), then look at the person again for a bit, look somewhere else, etc...

The amount of look/don't look usually depends on the other person (and the context, how well you know each other, etc...) so I would strongly advise on adjusting your behavior depending on the person and how comfortable they seem to be with you looking/not looking at them.

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