What do lawyers consult you for? Could you please give us some typical examples?
Lawyers are highly trained in the verbal matters of jurisprudence and law. Most of their learning involves written words, so their nonverbal communication is often poorly developed. Studies show that judges and juries pay close attention to a lawyer’s visual self-presentation and body language. The training I give helps trial attorneys be more persuasive in court.
Lip-compression / Shutterstock
What do judges consult you for? Could you please give us some typical examples?
Through nonverbal cues such as lip-compression, a judge may reveal an unspoken bias in favor of a prosecuting attorney over an accused’s defense lawyer. I help judges learn to be neutral on the bench.
We understand you are also able to extend help to salespersons. How often do they use your expertise, and in which areas?
Selling face-to-face is all about building rapport. I help salespeople master the nonverbal elements of rapport.
You have also been able to help law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Could you tell us about the different agencies you’ve helped and with what results?
Law enforcement folk are always searching for truth, while law-breakers seek to misinform through deception. Nonverbal deception cues often leak through special-visceral-nerve links between an offender’s sympathetic nervous system and his or her fingers, hands, shoulders, and lips. I teach officers and agents how to read these signs as deception “tells.” Seeing bodily tells, interrogators know when and where to probe more deeply for the truth.
Lie detector / Shutterstock
Would you agree that an analysis by a body language expert is more accurate than a polygraph?
Both examine what’s going on in a person’s autonomic nervous system. Both can sense stress and anxiety, but the burden is for an examiner to determine just what is causing the stress. I would say that nonverbal communication provides more diagnostic clues toward interpretation than does a polygraph alone.
Psychologists routinely conduct ink blot tests and arrive at conclusions. Don’t you think they can go severely wrong unless they are body language experts?
While puzzling over the meaning of an ink blot, lots of readable nonverbal cues are omitted. So yes, body language would greatly enhance the ink-blot tests.
What about body language of individuals from different backgrounds and cultures, is there some or complete commonality there? For example, in some cultures they look directly in the eye while speaking and to others, while particularly in some Asian countries, it’s considered impolite to look at a person directly while speaking. And then there’s also the situation of hierarchy in some countries, even within the family.
Body-language signals may be a) learned, b) innate, or c) mixed. Eye-winks, thumbs-up, and military-salute gestures, for instance, are clearly learned. Eye-blink, throat-clear, and facial-flushing cues, on the other hand, are clearly inborn or innate. Laugh, cry, shoulder-shrug, and most other body-language signals are “mixed,” because they originate as innate actions, but cultural rules later shape their timing, energy, and use. Body-language researchers do not always agree on the nature-nurture issue, however. Like Charles Darwin, human biologists suppose that many body-motion signs are inborn. Like Ray Birdwhistell, many cultural anthropologists propose that most or even all gestures are learned, while others combine the biological and cultural approaches. Research by psychologist Paul Ekman and his colleagues has shown that the facial expressions of disgust, surprise, and other primary emotions are universal across cultures.
Apart from body language, what are your interests?
I’m also interested in the evolution of spoken language.
Our readers, who are mainly young adults in different parts of the world, look to high achievers such as yourself for inspiration. Could you give us a word of advice for them?
I would encourage your young readers to follow and indulge their curiosity. This may be hard to do, but the rewards are incredible! I would not trade it for anything . . .
Professor David B. Givens began studying “body language” for his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He served as Anthropologist in Residence at the American Anthropological Association in Washington, D.C. from 1985-97, and is currently Director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington.