It’s common advice from parents to their children: look people in the eye when you’re talking to them.
It’s also an effective skill—sometimes too effective, according to a new study. The research, published in the journal “Psychological Science,” found speakers with a strong opinion about a controversial topic have less chance of persuading someone who disagrees if they make direct eye contact.
“It’s just too aggressive,” said Brandon Smith, a communication expert and workplace consultant. “It doesn’t feel open. [It] feels too pushy. So we want to temper that [eye contact].”
In the study, researchers had subjects watch videos of people talking about controversial topics. They presented a strong opinion that was opposite of the subject watching the video. Some participants watched the speaker’s eyes; others watched the speaker’s mouth. Those who watched the eyes were less likely to change their minds.