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Do you consciously use eye contact to help control or encourage players?

When an extroverted or otherwise dominant player adversely affects the group experience, do you use eye contact to seize his/her attention, followed by a "cool it!" message, verbal or by signal?

Conversely, do you use eye contact (again possibly in combination with verbal or nonverbal signals) to encourage and empower shy or ineloquent players?

Other than the special cases above, does direct eye contact generally encourage your players and make them feel valuable members of the group? Or does it make your players nervous?

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2 Answers 2

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Directly manipulating how you use eye contact is about sending confidence/authority signals. In an interpersonal context you can use direct (but not challenging) eye contact to give the impression of competence, authority, and confidence. Combined with warm expressions and verbal assurances of patience, it can be useful for keeping the spotlight on a shy player while giving them the feeling that they can take the time to think and choose their course of action.

With a disruptive dominant player, it may be useful to get their attention as a band-aid measure, but beyond the immediate disruption other measures will be necessary (like taking them aside and discussing the problem, or not asking them back next session, etc.).

It's worth noting too that eye contact can be a great way to add a dimension to the personalities of NPCs. Direct eye contact, erect posture, and limited head movement can give an NPC an air of authority; shifting eyes, shifting posture, and refusing to look at the players except fleetingly can give the NPC an air of nervousness or otherwise lacking confidence.

(There is a chapter in Graham Walmsley's book, Play Unsafe that specifically covers using eye contact and posture to subtly and not-so-subtly communicate authority when playing characters.)

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Thank you. Yes, of course, the chapter on Status. There's eye contact stuff in there, although it's a different take on eye contact from that described in the original post. –  Graham Oct 11 '10 at 22:32
    
@Graham Ah, I was wondering if this was the same Graham. Welcome, and pleased to meet you. :) –  SevenSidedDie Oct 11 '10 at 23:13

Eye contact is just one non-verbal tool you have in managing small group communications. You need a feel of your group to understand how each of your players is likely to react to it if it is a tool that you are comfortable using. For example, in many Asian cultures, eye contact can be taken as disrespectful and be source of discomfort.

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