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?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating

Alan Alda, the award-winning actor and bestselling author, tells us the fascinating story of his quest to learn how to communicate better, and to teach others to do the same. With his trademark humor and candor, he explores how to develop empathy as the key factor.Alan Alda has been on a decades-long journey to discover new ways to help people communicate and relate to one...

Title:If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating
Author:
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ISBN:0812989147
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:240 pages

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating Reviews

  • Kristy
    Jun 01, 2017

    ***I received my copy through Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.***

    Alan Alda's hilarious psychology videos got me through high school AP Psych, so I thought this would be a good one. I was pleasantly surprised. Alda tells charming stories that encourage readers to practice responsive listening for change, and also his work helping Science connect with the rest of the world.

    Communication [or lack thereof] is creating a serious PR problem for Science The Field and educated peopl

    ***I received my copy through Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.***

    Alan Alda's hilarious psychology videos got me through high school AP Psych, so I thought this would be a good one. I was pleasantly surprised. Alda tells charming stories that encourage readers to practice responsive listening for change, and also his work helping Science connect with the rest of the world.

    Communication [or lack thereof] is creating a serious PR problem for Science The Field and educated people. As a librarian/information scientist, I'm often the intermediary for this stuff, so I get it. Researchers often do a poor job educating the public, or reaching their intended audience when lobbying for scientific causes - mostly because they suck at explaining their work in an accessible way. This creates a major empathy gap for people who could use Scientific principles to create change. Alda's crusade to infuse more public speaking and performance in science has clearly done much good, especially for students like me. There's a wealth to be gained, if only we learn how to translate it for others.

  • David Kent
    Jun 12, 2017

    As a scientist and author concerned about how we communicate with the general public, I was eager to read this book by revered actor Alan Alda. The book reiterates and expands on a lecture I saw him give a few days ago. Between the two I learned a lot about improving communication. Alda mixes anecdotes and stories from his own experience, both as an actor (M*A*S*H, West Wing, movies, etc.) and his lifelong interest in science that led to him hosting Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years. Re

    As a scientist and author concerned about how we communicate with the general public, I was eager to read this book by revered actor Alan Alda. The book reiterates and expands on a lecture I saw him give a few days ago. Between the two I learned a lot about improving communication. Alda mixes anecdotes and stories from his own experience, both as an actor (M*A*S*H, West Wing, movies, etc.) and his lifelong interest in science that led to him hosting Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years. Recently he helped establish the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, where many of the techniques discussed in the book were developed and are currently used to teach communication skills to scientists.

    The first of two parts includes eleven chapters and primarily focuses on laying the groundwork for communication. He emphasizes the importance of empathy and "theory of mind." The ten chapters in the second part delve more deeply into the scientific studies conducted to investigate the skill sets being taught.

    Much of the training incorporates the concept of improvisation, or Improv. This is a technique often used by actors (and more famously by comedians) to entertain without a script. In this case, the technique is used to help scientists and others to learn how to "read" the person they are trying to communicate with. Games such as "the mirror exercise" help participants learn empathy, a mutual understanding of the person you're speaking to.

    There is much more to the book than one might expect from an actor. Alda has taken his goal of helping scientists communicate seriously, proposing and participating in studies to determine the best methods for teaching others. He provides a strong scientific basis from the studies he describes and has worked with or interviewed professors and practitioners of these methods.

    Based on my own experience (it's part of the reason I left a scientific consulting career to pursue writing and expanding public knowledge of science and history), the book is both scientifically robust and entertaining to read. While the focus is on helping scientists to better communicate, the lessons imparted will also be useful for all of us who wish to be better understood by - and to better understand - our fellow members of the public. Alan Alda should be commended for his contributions in this much needed area.

  • Jake
    Jun 11, 2017

    The greatest science communication failure of recent history occurred during breaking news coverage of the Higgs boson particle discovery. At least, that’s my opinion. This particle, claimed to be the active ingredient in objects having mass, is a huge deal. Yet, look at this gibberish news outlets threw at me as the leading quotation for the achievement.

    “We have observed a new boson with a mass of 125.3 plus or minus 0.6 GeV at 4.9 standard deviations.”

    No offense to Dr. Joe Incandela, who made

    The greatest science communication failure of recent history occurred during breaking news coverage of the Higgs boson particle discovery. At least, that’s my opinion. This particle, claimed to be the active ingredient in objects having mass, is a huge deal. Yet, look at this gibberish news outlets threw at me as the leading quotation for the achievement.

    “We have observed a new boson with a mass of 125.3 plus or minus 0.6 GeV at 4.9 standard deviations.”

    No offense to Dr. Joe Incandela, who made the above technical statement to a room full of scientists. Following his words, the gathering bubbled over with applause, even tears in at least one case. But the jargon was lost on me. That day I refused to be impressed as a matter of principle. Science had failed to explain itself.

    Such disconnects between scientists and the public comprise the impetus for Alan Alda’s latest book:

    . Known to many for his acting career, Alda has dedicated much of his time to promoting better science communication. Far from being a mere on-camera spokesman, Alda works as a Visiting Professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

    Using personal examples, as well as research, Alda makes the case for empathy as essential to good communication. He couples this with insights regarding the Theory of Mind. Think of empathy as the emotional connection, and Theory of Mind as the rational component. Empathy, according to Alda, is a skill which can be developed and refined.

    Not surprisingly, Alda advocates cultivating empathy through theatrical improv (a serious performance method, not merely a game-driven attempt to get laughs). Anyone who has taken an acting class with improv as a component, myself included, will find this to be self-evident. The same practiced skills which help actors connect onstage can help scientists connect with the public. As Alda relates, this extends to medical doctors, business leaders, hopeful lovers, and parents mentoring children.

    stays on task via short chapters and focused, conversational prose. It wraps up in a tidy 200 pages. There is also an audio version, read by Alda, which I’ll safely assume is highly enjoyable. The result is a book calculated to be accessible, informative and thought-provoking.

    Odd then that this book sometimes struggled to hold my interest.

    is full of nuggets: nuggets of wisdom, hindsight, and profound experience. Any chapter by itself can be a delight, and many were for me. Yet, perhaps because of the testimonial nature, perhaps because of the copious repetition of its premise, the book sometimes felt like an after-dinner conversation growing tiresome. In no way am I panning it. However, I do suggest readers avoid devouring the book quickly (which I did so I could post my review asap).

    Given its levelheaded blend of entertainment with educational discourse,

    disqualifies itself from being Alda’s most fun book yet. It may however prove his most important, given the toxic level of animosity in current public discussion. Therefore, I highly recommend reading it. Come for the theory, but stay for the moments of sublime understanding.

  • Cindy Burnett
    Jun 05, 2017

    5++ stars

    Every single person on the planet should read this book. Alan Alda (who is a phenomenal writer) has written a highly informative book about the importance of communicating better. He then goes on to provide innovative and creative ways to help people do so. He is a natural storyteller, and the book is so entertaining that I completed it in one evening. Alda uses miscommunication stories from his own life to demonstrate how important it is for people to understand each other, and the iss

    5++ stars

    Every single person on the planet should read this book. Alan Alda (who is a phenomenal writer) has written a highly informative book about the importance of communicating better. He then goes on to provide innovative and creative ways to help people do so. He is a natural storyteller, and the book is so entertaining that I completed it in one evening. Alda uses miscommunication stories from his own life to demonstrate how important it is for people to understand each other, and the issues that arise when we don’t. A major focus of Alda’s is teaching empathy. Relating to others creates empathy, and from there the desire to understand and cooperate is born. He also focuses on improving communication through listening with our eyes, using a story to make a point, eliminating confusing jargon, and paying close attention to what the other’s person’s face is telling us.

    If I Understood You is one of the most informative and useful books that I have read in a long while. After I finished it, I immediately emailed my daughter’s teachers suggesting they use it to support a creative combined math and science class that she took last year. I also think the techniques will help me with my own relationships, including my husband, children and friends. I highly, highly recommend this book to everyone. This book would make a great gift, and our world (and particularly our country right now) would be such a better place if everyone followed his ideas. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the chance to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  • Trish
    Jun 30, 2017

    Alan Alda is something of an institution at this point. He has parlayed his fame as an actor on a long-running well-written TV serial,

    , into doing whatever takes his fancy. Good for him. He was never extensively schooled in science but he loved it, pursued it, made a new kind of career out of having scientists explain their secrets to him on film.

    In a way it is out of this experience that this opportunity to explain communication came to him: how do we know the other side in a conversati

    Alan Alda is something of an institution at this point. He has parlayed his fame as an actor on a long-running well-written TV serial,

    , into doing whatever takes his fancy. Good for him. He was never extensively schooled in science but he loved it, pursued it, made a new kind of career out of having scientists explain their secrets to him on film.

    In a way it is out of this experience that this opportunity to explain communication came to him: how do we know the other side in a conversation actually understands what we are saying? One can imagine the numerous ways we would want to verify the other side 'got the message' in the way we meant them to. Alda uses the example of a doctor explaining a terminal diagnosis to a patient, getting no reaction, and then querying the patient: Why didn't you ask more questions? The patient hadn't understood what the doctor was saying...hadn't known he had just said 'get your affairs in order.'

    Alda explains that the skill to

    how much the other in a conversation is comprehending is a learned skill. We can improve. He suggests that one way to do this is through improvisation exercises that require one to mirror (exactly reproduce in real time) the movements of another. One must watch, empathize, involve oneself deeply in the other's experience in order to do this. Mimicking doesn't mean one feels all the things the other does, but one gets closer to their experience.

    That seems to be about it. There are lots of stories, etc. but he is more interested in his results than I am. Reminds us that advancement in these fields is painfully slow. I'm glad he is doing what interests him. I listened to the audio, produced by Penguin Random House and read by the author. He was able to put his emphases in where he wanted them, and was able to convey his interest in the subject to us, but I grew weary before the end, at the end of one lab experiment he'd designed (with neuroscientists) and financed, thinking...oh, yes, I remember those science experiments that never seemed to go anywhere. But, as he says, even the negative of a result tells us something...

  • Monica
    Jun 27, 2017

    This is brilliant. Alda's emphasis on the role that empathy plays in communicating is brilliant--and his practical exercises backed up by research explaining their efficacy was incredibly useful. All writing teachers should read this.

  • Jessica
    Jul 02, 2017

    4 Communicating-Stars! ☆☆☆☆

    “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

    This book was insightful, funny, i interesting and above all educating. I love Alan Alda! I loved him in Mash and his science interviews on television. I find him to be a smart and honest person. When i heard he wrote this book, i needed to read it, and I'm so happy i did.

    Have you ever had a conversation with someone and found out towards the end that the two of you were not having t

    4 Communicating-Stars! ☆☆☆☆

    “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

    This book was insightful, funny, i interesting and above all educating. I love Alan Alda! I loved him in Mash and his science interviews on television. I find him to be a smart and honest person. When i heard he wrote this book, i needed to read it, and I'm so happy i did.

    Have you ever had a conversation with someone and found out towards the end that the two of you were not having the same conversation or misunderstood each other completely? I know i did. This book highlights those moments and helps you prepare for them.

    “I walked over to the scientist, smiled confidently—and immediately made three huge blunders. LISTENING WITH EYES, EARS, AND FEELINGS”

    Alan Alda covers a whole range of topics, from listening, talking, really understanding what the other person is saying to how to get the other person to really understand you. He'll even teach you how to read minds. ;)

    I liked how each chapter was explained with a personal story of his. It was funny, relatable and refreshing seeing someone else admit to making the same mistakes i have.

    “Responsive Listening: In acting, this kind of relating is fundamental. You don’t say your next line simply because it’s in the script. You say it because the other person has behaved in a way that makes you say it. Relating to them allows them to have an effect on you—to change you. It’s not just in acting that genuine relating has to take place—real conversation can’t happen if listening is just my waiting for you to finish talking.”

    “just listening to good communicators doesn’t work. It takes training to learn how to do it. I’ve been listening to good pianists all my life and I still can’t play the piano”

    There were a few scientific studies that i found irrelevant to the goal of the book. They seemed a little out of place in terms of interest related to the rest of the book, but i enjoyed it none the less.

    I think i liked the chapter on Warren Buffett best. His insight on 'less is more' really works.

    All in all, i liked it. Most of the topics mentioned were elementary, in the sense that i already knew them and felt the lengthy stories describing them seemed to dumb-down the book. But that was my only critic.

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