A fundamental part of SAFE 101 Violence Prevention courses is the capability to interpret body language. Seeing a threat from a distance is a critical skill for recognizing and avoiding violence. If one faces violence, that ability to foretell how, when, and what form violence may present itself is essential. What do the eyes see in self-defence? One facet of body language that does not get considerable attention is the eyes. What do you notice in someone’s eyes? What is seen in yours? How do you maximize your safety with your vision? Should you even make eye contact or keep them diverted? Let’s examine what we can answer about eye contact.
Over 25 years I’ve met a large percent of people who prefer in carrying their head down to avoid eye contact. People fear if they make eye contact they express interest in the other person. Many feel if they avoid eye contact, others will not consider them for victimization thinking they are almost invisible. They prefer to disappear in the crowd. History and experiences shared tell us the contrary.
I view violence from a 360-degree perspective. One should when studying self-defence. You must take into account all aspects involved. The “bad guy” wants to single out someone who appears vulnerable and eye contact plays a considerable part in this. But if you assume you can tell in a conflict when someone is lying by their eyes, new research says that is pseudoscience. Can You Spot A Lie
Failing to even glance at someone is a sign of vulnerability. Often if one makes quick eye contact what follows is body language of sheltering oneself and closing up almost as if embarrassed or shy. That quick glance triggers the whole body into a massive sign of apprehension to others. Most will ignore and not pay attention or even notice, but the criminal sees a potential target.
And since the criminal rarely wants to be seen, the inability to describe them if you do not notice meets an important part of the checklist in choosing a victim.
Then the question of how long to maintain eye contact comes up? I’ve met many women (and men) who will stare down anyone who makes eye contact with them. They may express their stare will reveal a confidence they are not a primary target for violence. The problem is when confidence is not real, but manufactured. Perhaps this was learned in a self defence course or read it somewhere. One with experience in violence will see through this facade. They may receive your stare as a challenge. The eyes do not lie. The fear in the eyes will be seen before any forced attempt at appearing confident. Fear is present in conflict, but different levels of fear can be seen in the eyes.
So, too long is bad, and not looking is dangerous. How long should you make eye contact? Eye contact should be brief, neutral, but intentional. If someone is staring you down, that is predatory and may be seen the same from you. A modest smile, with a balanced expression is perfect. Many women share how uncomfortable they are smiling as men often misinterpret it. Just the fact a woman has to consider smiling makes me sad. Most males have little clue what women have to think about daily. For one to consider, do I or do I not glance at someone should trouble all of us.
If one finds themselves in a conflict standing face to face with a threat, where are they supposed to direct their eyes? My recommendation is you need to address the threat in front of you, but also be aware to the environment outside the direct conflict. You want to work on widening your vision, your peripherals. The wider you search, the resolution will lower, but you will see motion and movement. Any motion coming towards you, look over and acknowledge. You need to see the person in front of you, their hands, and I mean all ten fingers. Do this from a safe distance outside of their reach. You can practice applying your peripheral vision in your everyday life wherever you are. Diffuse your vision and explore as far to your right and left. What do you notice now that a moment ago wasn’t in your vision?
Eye contact with a bit of misdirection can either be an advantage or disadvantage in conflict. What do you do when someone looks up in the sky? Most will look. Well, in conflict, you can use eye contact to divert someone’s attention to take action appropriate to the scenario. A small shift to one side of their face will usually cause a shift in their focus. But the other person may also divert your eyes by looking off to one side of your head or away to maximize their physical intention because of the distraction they have set.
Many people assume the words used in conflict are what we focus on, but it is the body language, and the eyes tell us so much about emotions like fear, joy, sadness, anger, contempt, etc. You look someone in the eye and know what they are considering. All other forms of body language may express confidence, but if you do not see it in the eyes, you will have trouble convincing the other person of your confidence. And confidence should not appear to be challenging or threatening. Many associate confidence with looking pissed off. They are quite different.
So much value in understanding eye contact and its place in conflict. Do you SEE what I mean?