Nonverbal communication is an integral part of our daily lives, yet it is so often left out of the discussion.

David Givens, who teaches at Gonzaga University, has dedicated the majority of his life to studying and understanding the hidden language of nonverbal communication. 

Givens has always been keenly aware of the nonverbal signals passed between people. As a child he recalled being uniquely observant of people. He was able to pick up on the details about a person and create a better understanding of their personality from it, he said. 

His knack for observing and understanding these personal details were further developed and utilized once he began studying anthropology at San Diego State University (SDSU).

“I knew at the end of the very first class that this was for me,” Givens said over the phone. 

He graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from SDSU and continued his education at the University of Washington (UW), where he later received his doctorate in anthropology. Givens knew the field of anthropology was his life’s calling, but that didn’t make finding a job in the field any easier. 

After exhausting the job market in Seattle, he turned his focus elsewhere, and applied for a job at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) in Washington, D.C.

For 12 years he worked with the AAA, and during his time there he served as anthropologist in residence. 

“I worked with lobby groups to help raise money for research,” Givens said. “I was able to conduct my own research and advocate for anthropology in the press. I wrote numerous articles and journals throughout my time as well.” 

Looking back at his career Givens sees his time at the AAA as being an integral part in his journey to learning and understanding the human language and nonverbal communication. The tools he learned throughout his time there helped guide him to discover his true passions. 

After Givens left the corporate world, he embarked on his quest to better comprehend the reasons behind why people act and talk the way that they do. He said he wanted to make his research and his findings more widely accessible to everyone, and thus he created an online Center for Non-Verbal Studies. 

Throughout his time studying nonverbal communication, Givens has discovered so much about the unconscious mind and how and why humans communicate the way they do, he said. 

“Our brains have such well-equipped processing centers,” Givens said. “We often react without knowing why or have certain unexplainable feelings.”

Givens’ research lined up and compared numerous generations, and he’s found that millennials and Gen Z are much more reliant on verbal communication. With so much of their lives being online they often find it hard to “read” each other when interfacing in person. 

“So often I’ll walk across campus and the majority of students have headphones in or are on their phones,” Givens said. “They often completely ignore their surroundings. In my generation it was considered normal and polite to make eye contact and start conversations with each other in passing. These generations experience a different kind of person-to-person interaction, which relies much more on verbal communication.” 

Givens has concluded these generations’ dependency on verbal communication has made them more susceptible to missing key social cues such as body language. 

His work with the American Anthropological Association as well as his journals on nonverbal communication, have garnered attention and respect from fellow scientists and professors worldwide. One such professor is John White from Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland.  

White was so taken with Givens’ work that he personally reached out to try and form a partnership between their two schools. 

“I read all of David [Givens] books and was extremely impressed by their erudite yet accessible nature,” White said via email. “Moreover, the manner in which they were grounded in anthropological, psychological and neuroscientific research, yet so easily readable, made me a huge fan. They say those who truly understand their topic can explain it simply, yet clearly.”

White discovered that his own research intersected with Givens’ work in many ways and reached out in hopes of creating links between their two respective universities to expand the world of nonverbal communication. 

Their partnership has created more than just a link between the two schools, as they have since worked together on joint research projects and endeavors. 

“We are currently writing a dictionary of nonverbal communication, based primarily on David’s own life-long work in the field of nonverbal communication,” White said. “He’s a joy to work with – astonishingly perceptive about nonverbal communication and related literature/research, and always so courteous and helpful.” 

Both Givens and White have investigated the link between nonverbal communication and cues, and the coronavirus pandemic. White highlighted the importance of person-to-person touch in our everyday life and the necessary lack of of this kind of communication during the pandemic for human well-being. 

“It will be interesting to see if there is any fallout from its reduced usage [human touch],” White said. “Social distancing and facial communication have both changed. As humans we invite others to communicate via gestures, facial expressions, body orientation, etc. There is a noticeable change in people’s bodily communication towards each other. ‘Come hither’ expressions are now replaced with ‘stay away and go yonder’!”

Givens’ advice for students learning to cope with the difficulties that have arisen from this pandemic are to stay in touch with one another as much as possible. 

“Stay emotionally connected,” Givens said. “You have to do it intentionally. It cannot be serendipitous; you must reach out more and make contact.” 

Audrey Measer is the opinion editor. Follow her on Twitter: @audrey_measer.

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