What does a victim look like? An assailant seeking a target for violence, bullying, or abuse will often look for very small behaviors that telegraph insecurity. This week we’re going to practice a basic skill for building, and projecting, confidence: Eye contact.
It helps to have a partner or partners for the first part of this activity—a group of three or four people works best. After that, you’ll be practicing on your own.
- Have your helpers stand in a line a few feet apart.
- Walk slowly along the line, making eye contact with each person. After you look at each person, look down at the floor. Then look at the next person, look down, and so on, to the end of the line.
- Give each of your partners a chance to do this too.
- Now, walk along the line again. This time, after you make eye contact, look away from the person, but don’t drop your eyes. Keep your gaze at the same level, and look off to the side, or on to the next person in line.
- Give your partners a chance to try this.
- How did it feel to look down? What was different about keeping your gaze level?
- What was your impression of your partners when they looked down? When they kept their gaze level?
For the rest of the week, practice making brief, polite eye contact and not looking down afterward. You can probably practice this while walking on a busy sidewalk (use your own judgment; you know your neighborhood better than I do), or walking down the hallway at work.
“Appropriate” eye contact depends in part on cultural expectations. We don’t want to violate people’s sense of decorum by staring, but we are testing the cultural expectation that some people (women, people of a certain ethnicity, the differently abled) should demonstrate submissive gaze patterns.
By Friday, I hope you’ll have a better sense of the way assertive eye contact can build your confidence, and project that attitude to others.
Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in on the comments thread below to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.