“Look at me when you’re I’m talking to you.” A familiar phrase to American children (and adults.) Making direct eye contact is an important element in American, and most Western, cultures. It underscores the idea of being clear and direct in all aspects of communication.
While staring, holding prolonged eye contact is discouraged, looking directly at people when they’re speaking is expected. Speakers interpret that gaze as a sign of interest, connection. For some it’s seen as showing self-confidence, and sincerity.
Looking away, down at the floor, glancing at the ceiling or in anyway breaking that visual connection can change the impression. The other person may wonder: What’s he hiding? Is she sneaky, afraid, anxious, disinterested or bored?
And yet in other parts of the world - in other cultures - that same visual gesture – looking away, averting ones eyes is seen as appropriate, a sign of respect. And the Western direct focus may be interpreted as disrespectful and aggressive.
When talking, listening, engaged in conversation as you travel the world remember that where you look carries a message. More importantly that how its interpreted differs significantly. Take care in translating this component of a conversation: Respect or aggressive? Confident or sneaky? It depends.