A retired Gonzaga professor writes “The Routledge Dictionary of Nonverbal Communication”
The pin on your lapel.
A slight shrug.
The way you shake hands.
Human beings communicate in multiple ways without ever saying a word, and this has fascinated David Givens for 60 years.
He majored in anthropology at San Diego State, then earned his doctorate at the University of Washington.
“Nonverbal communication is anything but the spoken word or hand-signed words,” Givens said. “It gives us information and evolved as a way for humans to say, ‘Look at me, I’m here.’ ”
While at UW, Givens filmed conversations between students.
“I broke them down (the conversations) into all the non-verbal signs and came up with 200 non-verbal signs for my thesis.”
These early works eventually became the basis for the online nonverbal dictionary, which Givens created when he launched the Center for Nonverbal Studies in 1997.
The center’s mission is to advance the study of human communication in all its forms except language.
“I wanted to address deep questions,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help people understand what it means to be human. The online dictionary is a free resource used worldwide.
During the pandemic, he teamed up with a colleague in Ireland to publish a print version of his online dictionary, “The Routledge Dictionary of Nonverbal Communication” (Routledge, 2021).
The book is presented as a series of chapters with alphabetical entries, ranging from attractiveness to zeitgeist, and aims to provide the reader with a clear understanding of some of the relevant discourses on particular topics while making it practical and easy to read.
Before starting the Center for Nonverbal Studies, Givens taught at UW and was also an anthropologist-in-residence at the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC, for 12 years.
After moving to Spokane in 1997, he taught at Gonzaga University, taking a break from research before returning to teach online. He retired from GU in January.
According to Givens, what sets his research apart from other anthropologists is that he studied the roles of neurology, psychology, and psychiatry in nonverbal communication.
For example, the shrug.
“It can be intentional or unintentional and can convey uncertainty,” he explained.
Neuromuscular action gives observers insight into the brain.
“The words themselves, like court transcripts, are devoid of emotion, but add bodily movement, eye contact,” he said. “The lips, hands, shoulders, and eyes give us insight into emotional cues.”
Gestures are not the only types of nonverbal communication,
“Take our flag,” he said. “It’s colorful and symbolic and communicates non-verbal information.”
Givens has worked with the justice system, the FBI, and corporations to help decode the mysteries of nonverbal communication in various contexts.
“The battleground I studied the most was the boardroom table,” he said. “With the legs and torso under the table, it becomes a stage for the hands. Hand movements reveal a lot.
He used palm up as an example, explaining that raised palms suggest a vulnerable or non-aggressive pose that draws listeners in as allies rather than rivals or enemies.
When his co-author John White contacted him from Dublin City University and broached the idea of compiling the online dictionary into a book, Givens was delighted.
“I’m working on a second book with John,” he says. “We communicate almost every day. He’s in his 50s, so I’m slowly giving everything to him. I’m 77 and I don’t want all this to die.
His goal in compiling decades of research on the intricacies of nonverbal communication into book form is that readers will use it to enrich their lives.
“Understanding nonverbal communication adds color and depth,” Givens said. “You’ll see things you’ve never seen before, and it makes life more fun.”
For more information, visit routledge.com.
You can reach Cindy Hval at [email protected]