Learning and Sharing

An Exit Strategy


The eyes are a remarkable tool for social interaction.  We rely significantly on non-verbal cues in our communication and interactions with others.  Observing and thinking with our eyes helps us to obtain information about the thoughts, feelings, intentions, and reactions of our communication partners.  At the same time, our eye gaze provides information about our own attention and inner experiences.

Recently, I have been working with teens who have not mastered the art of exiting a conversation or an interaction.  Sometimes they walk away without saying anything.  Other times, they say goodbye as they hurry away into another room or out the door and I am left looking at the back of their head.  So, I decided that we needed an exit strategy.  The foundation of the exit strategy is directed eye gaze.


Our eyes are like arrows…











…they are usually pointing at what a person is thinking about.  We can understand the thoughts of others just by observing where they are looking.  If I am looking at the clock, I am most likely thinking about what time it is.  If I am thinking about the time, I probably intend to leave because I need to be somewhere else.

Directed eye gaze serves many important  purposes.

  • We can observe our communication partner’s face and body language to determine how interested they are in our topic of conversation.
  • Our gaze demonstrates our level of attention to what our communication partner is saying.
  • We can read the room/group and decide when is a good time to change the topic or help us monitor our impulses to blurt.
  • If we are walking and talking with a conversation partner, checking in with our eyes keeps us connected.  We let them know that we care about them and what they have to say.




The Exit Strategy Plan of Action

  1. Think with your eyes and watch for “the signal”.  The signal informs that a conversation or an interaction is almost over.  Sometimes I give the signal and sometimes my conversation partner gives the signal.  It could be when I stand up from the table or I say “great session today”.  My conversation partner may signal by looking at her watch and saying, “nice talking with you but I have to go”.
  2. After the signal has been given, we start to walk together.  It is important that we check in with our eyes in order to stay connected.  We turn shoulders toward the other person to signal that we are open to what they are saying.
  3. While walking and talking we can ask “do you have any plans for the weekend?” or we can just say “have a good evening”.  Keep the response short and sweet!  But say something!


The exit strategy takes lots of practice.  Visual supports in the form of pictures help us to see the purposes of directed eye gaze and how an exit strategy keeps conversation partners thinking good thoughts and feeling good feelings about each other.

Leave a comment »