The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is that we may listen the more and talk the less.
-- ZENO OF ATHENS, 350 B.C.
When you are listening, superior eye contact requires an additional skill that increases the naturalness of your eye contact. It also helps to avoid the possibility of intimidation that intense eye contact can produce. Additionally, it suggests the depth of your involvement with the person and in what she or he is saying. It is called "the flick." What is the flick? Flicking is the simple act of shifting your gaze from one of the person's eyes to the other while you are listening. If you want to see the flick in action, the next time you're watching television and there's a love scene where the young girl is looking into the young man's eyes, turn down the sound. As she gazes into his eyes, watch how her eyes flick from his one eye to the other. He will do the same. She will even create a triangle of flicks between his eyes and lips, making her eye contact very intimate and very sensual. Their eye movement mutually tells them how much their minds and feelings are actively engaged with each other.
You have probably experienced the reverse of this total engagement. Someone has been looking at you and very possibly making a hundred percent eye contact, but you knew "the lights were on but there was no one home." The other person was engaging in phony listening. He wasn't listening to you. His eyes had that glazed, vacant look, which immediately confirmed your worst suspicion -- he wasn't really interested in you or what you had to say.
What caused that vacant look? It's the lack of eye activity. The person's eyes seemed to be locked in one place -- just staring at you. And the longer he just sat there, the more uncomfortable and even angry you felt.
If you want people to see that you are listening, your eyes must move. Just like you saw on TV, the more eye activity there is, the more you will appear to be involved. The less eye activity, the less you will appear involved, and where there is no eye activity, there will seem to be no involvement at all.
A perfect example of "no activity, no involvement" was the presidential candidate and political gadfly, Ross Perot. Whenever you saw him on TV, either when he was speaking or listening, he rarely moved his eyes: He never seemed to blink. He just stared. This glaring absence of eye activity indicated he wasn't considering any other opinions; he wasn't weighing the value or merit of what was being said: His mind was made up. He was interested only in what he was going to say next.
Once you have mastered the art of prolonged eye contact, begin at home to practice and learn the technique of flicking. The next time you're listening to someone, concentrate on shifting your eyes back and forth between their eyes every now and then. Don't overdo it. You don't want to appear as though you've developed a tic! After some practice, you will quickly find you don't have to try to flick -- it will just happen by itself.
If you are concerned about how often you should flick, just watch someone who is a really good, attentive listener. Observe people when they are engaged in two-way conversations at work, at social engagements, or even on TV. The way they use their eyes will give you a good sense of what is appropriate.
Eye flicks are one of the best signals that tell a speaker that she has captured your interest. Now let us look at another way to express charm.