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If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?

My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating

By Alan Alda
10-minute read
Audio available
If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? : My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating by Alan Alda

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? (2017) explains how improvisation techniques, as practiced by actors and comedians, can be used as training methods for better communication. Alda uses illuminating examples of miscommunications from his own life to show how we all can be better at relating and talking to one another.

  • Anyone whose job involves communicating complex ideas to various and varied audiences
  • Leaders who want to improve their interpersonal skills and learn about empathy
  • Non-actors who want to learn how the craft really works

Alan Alda is an award-winning actor who has won seven Emmy Awards. He is probably most famous for playing Hawkeye Pierce, on M*A*S*H. After hosting PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers, Alda was inspired to help scientists find better ways to communicate.

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If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?

My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating

By Alan Alda
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? : My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating by Alan Alda
Synopsis

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? (2017) explains how improvisation techniques, as practiced by actors and comedians, can be used as training methods for better communication. Alda uses illuminating examples of miscommunications from his own life to show how we all can be better at relating and talking to one another.

Key idea 1 of 6

To ensure great communication, use your ignorance to make others feel comfortable.

Have you ever been stuck in a one-way conversation where the other person keeps rattling on, ignoring the fact that you just don’t get what on earth he’s talking about?

It’s not a great feeling, but you can avoid it by using ignorance. Along with curiosity, ignorance is the best tool for getting the most from your communication partner. Interviewers on television use this technique all the time on scientific guests.

The author used this exact technique when he interviewed a scientist specializing in AI, a topic about which he knew nothing. Rather than asking questions requiring technical, niche answers, the author asked whether specialists ever worried that robots might turn against and overthrow the human race – a broad and pretty naive question. Such a broad question elicited an entertaining answer that the whole audience, not just those with specific scientific knowledge, could appreciate.

Another key thing to remember is that good communication is, by definition, a shared experience.

When you communicate with someone, always be sure to make your partner feel comfortable. A great technique here is improvisation, which helps build both a connection and fellow feeling.

On one occasion, the author led an experimental improvisation session at the University of Southern California. The idea was to help students feel more at ease communicating with one another when they gave presentations.

Before they spoke, they were assigned certain activities. For instance, one student had to pretend to play an imaginary instrument, and one by one the remaining students joined in, each playing their own “instrument,” all following the rhythm of the first student.

This joint activity helped the students bond and relax. And, in the end, it made for far better presentations.

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