You know what really gets to me? I’ll tell you. People that walk by and don’t make eye contact… and you know what that means. It means they don’t have time for you. In fact, it seems like they actually go out of their way to avoid eye contact… and you know what that means. It means they don’t care about you. Oh, and how about the fact these people often don’t even smile… you know what that means. It means they don’t even like you.
We’ve seen and reacted to these people for years. When we were in school, we’d see them on a regular basis, crisscrossing in the hallway, or walking to a class. We’ve seen them in our office, at the health club, in the store, in the neighborhood, or just about anywhere you can think of. Their failure to simply make eye contact with us, or smile or at us, makes us wonder. Before we know it, we begin to misuse our imagination.
“Is that person too busy to even nod hello? Jerk!”
“Did that person actually look down rather than look at me as I walked by? How dare they!”
“Is that person so much better than me that they can’t even smile at me? Knucklehead!”
At first, it doesn’t really bother us all that much. I mean, sometimes people are busy, or distracted. But after a while, we begin to notice a pattern, and that pattern of avoiding eye contact begins to bother us. In fact, often it almost incites us. We begin to fire back our own intentional, almost callous lack of eye contact. When we see these people coming, our mood changes. Like a pitcher winding up for a pitch, we toss in our best, dismissive, snotty look right back at these people as if to say, “How do you like them apples!”
Does that scenario sound familiar? It hurts to be ignored, or for the lack of a better word, dismissed – on a regular basis – by another human being. The wondering continues: Is this lack of social civility because we’re not important enough, or perhaps not attractive enough, or not cool enough, or maybe not interesting enough to simply make eye contact with?! I mean, for goodness sake, how hard can it be to just look at someone! The nerve of these people!!
But what if we have it all wrong?
What if that lack of eye contact isn’t because we aren’t worthy, or hideous to look at, or of no social value to another person? What if it has nothing to do with us at all? What if it’s a complete misread of another human being? What if these people who commit this heinous act are just… shy?
I watched a guy stare at the floor, and frown every time I got near him for over a decade. After a couple of years, guided by my fragile ego, I threw it right back at him. I grew accustomed to our little match of disinterest, and frownery until one day he came up, bravely stared at the floor, and told me what I good job I had done on a project. As a matter of fact, while frowning at me, he even offered me his hand to shake. When I shook his hand I noticed something else. I noticed he was wrestling with a smile. I also noticed that I instantly liked him, and we’ve been friends ever since.
I’m willing to bet there are countless people in your life that you have misread because of their social awkwardness. I also bet there are a few of these people, who fate helped you to get to know better, and who later became your friends. Their inability to make eye contact was not indicative of how they felt about you at all, but rather due to their own insecurity. The fact is many people perceive a lack of eye contact as almost an aggressive act. Ironically, when you actually break through that barrier of “disinterest,” you find out these are often nice people… really, nice people.
So, the next time you smile at someone and in return you receive a flat, unemotional, look at the floor, try not to take it personally. Say “hi” anyway. I’m betting you will be surprised at both the sincere “hello” you hear and the look that you are given. It will be a look of gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.