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The Glance

April 22, 1999

He looks at your chest before he looks at your eyes. She checks out your derriere as you stroll by. Perhaps you're undaunted by it. Perhaps it makes you uncomfortable.

How you read the looks ultimately determines whether they are considered harassing or flattering.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Unwanted glances can border on assaultive behavior, says Mike Harsh, professor of humanities at Hagerstown Community College.

But there's a chance the eyes aren't focusing on what you think they are.

Some people may not be fixating on your body but are gazing into the distance, Harsh says.

Mark Knapp, a professor of communication at University of Texas at Austin, agrees. While a man may think you're looking at his face, you might be looking past his ear at something behind him.

How to react

If gazes are unwanted or unappreciated, avoid eye contact.

"Looking at the person essentially opens the channels to communication. Not looking at people creates distance," says Knapp, author of "Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction."

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"Get away from the situation. Leave the field. Don't look like a victim," Harsh says.

If the situation does not require you to act, don't, Knapp says.

Responses to others are like traffic signals, Harsh explains.

Some "red lights" that stop the communication process include crossing your arms, putting your head down or avoiding eye contact, Harsh says. A wrinkled forehead or eyebrows - a "yellow light" - shows that you are trying to understand the other person.

A "green light" to continue communicating would be paying close attention, Harsh says.

A gaze into someone's face may be given if you expect to meet and talk to the person, if there is potential for developing a relationship or you find some of his features attractive, Knapp says.

However, some men and women may notice various body parts when there are no social expectations, he says.

"I imagine there are some men and women, though, who will react to various body parts with oohs and aahs when there is no expectation of ever socially engaging that person," according to Knapp.

Men vs. women

Women tend to look at men's faces, says Joyce Webb, associate professor of communications at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va. She says women, who tend to take submissive roles, are more interested in people and their reactions, whereas those with more dominant personalities - often men - don't care about another person's reactions.

Women who are seeking leadership positions may have to focus less on people's faces, says Webb, also the debate and forensics coach at Shepherd. Men who want to appear more supportive need to learn how to do more glancing at faces, she says.

Sometimes even glances not meant to be seen can be felt.

Webb says a survey conducted among students at Stanford University revealed that three-fourths of the participants said they could tell if someone was staring at them from behind.

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