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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

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From iconic actor and bestselling author Alan Alda, an indispensable guide to communicating better—based on his experience with acting, improv, science, and storytelling The acclaimed actor shares fascinating and powerful lessons from the art and science of communication, and teaches readers to improve the way they relate to others using improv games, storytelling, and thei From iconic actor and bestselling author Alan Alda, an indispensable guide to communicating better—based on his experience with acting, improv, science, and storytelling The acclaimed actor shares fascinating and powerful lessons from the art and science of communication, and teaches readers to improve the way they relate to others using improv games, storytelling, and their own innate ability to read what’s probably going on in the minds of others. With his trademark humor and frankness, Alan Alda explains what makes the out-of-the-box techniques he developed after his years as the host of Scientific American Frontiers so effective. This book reveals what it means to be a true communicator, and how we can communicate better, in every aspect of our lives—with our friends, lovers, and families, with our doctors, in business settings, and beyond.


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From iconic actor and bestselling author Alan Alda, an indispensable guide to communicating better—based on his experience with acting, improv, science, and storytelling The acclaimed actor shares fascinating and powerful lessons from the art and science of communication, and teaches readers to improve the way they relate to others using improv games, storytelling, and thei From iconic actor and bestselling author Alan Alda, an indispensable guide to communicating better—based on his experience with acting, improv, science, and storytelling The acclaimed actor shares fascinating and powerful lessons from the art and science of communication, and teaches readers to improve the way they relate to others using improv games, storytelling, and their own innate ability to read what’s probably going on in the minds of others. With his trademark humor and frankness, Alan Alda explains what makes the out-of-the-box techniques he developed after his years as the host of Scientific American Frontiers so effective. This book reveals what it means to be a true communicator, and how we can communicate better, in every aspect of our lives—with our friends, lovers, and families, with our doctors, in business settings, and beyond.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Burnett

    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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Disappointing. I can't say I didn't get anything out of it, or that it's outright BS, but I expected better based on Alda's years of experience in training people on this topic. Nerd addendum: The absence of references is lazy for a serious nonfiction book about science. It made it harder than necessary to verify some of the claims made, e.g. that empathy training of doctors improves patient outcomes. Alda is emphatic about this assertion but the science is pretty weak. The meta-analysis not cit Disappointing. I can't say I didn't get anything out of it, or that it's outright BS, but I expected better based on Alda's years of experience in training people on this topic. Nerd addendum: The absence of references is lazy for a serious nonfiction book about science. It made it harder than necessary to verify some of the claims made, e.g. that empathy training of doctors improves patient outcomes. Alda is emphatic about this assertion but the science is pretty weak. The meta-analysis not cited on page 94 involves 13 studies featuring sample sizes of 3 and 8 and "not reported." !!!!!!!????????!!!!!! The studies with the most solid objective outcomes (blood pressure) showed no difference between treatment and control groups. And for people who care about facts and such, here's the link to the reference: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/arti.... See comment stream below for more details. Alda's claim about the impact of teaching doctors "empathy" is a central selling point for his technique of teaching scientists and doctors how to communicate. The fact that this assertion is based on such weak evidence damages the premise of the entire book. Alda doesn't claim to be a scientist (or else he would get 1*), and I accept that he is a master communicator. But this kind of mess just illustrates how you have to understand the basics of the scientific process before you can communicate it. Science is not a collection of gee-whiz factoids. Science is a method for understanding the universe. "Science-writing" is not the same thing as writing science.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce. Who doesn’t love him? I still do, him and all the other characters from M*A*S*H, and have seen the show several times. But then I wanted to know more about the man behind, so I read his two autobiographies: Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, and loved them to pieces. Besides being a great actor, I have discovered a great man too. Y “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce. Who doesn’t love him? I still do, him and all the other characters from M*A*S*H, and have seen the show several times. But then I wanted to know more about the man behind, so I read his two autobiographies: Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, and loved them to pieces. Besides being a great actor, I have discovered a great man too. Years passed and a couple of weeks ago, someone posted a link with a series of his podcasts and I realized I have missed his story-telling and fine humor and searched for something new to read by him, which led me to this book. Perhaps there are better books out there about empathy and communication, but for me this is a 5 stars one, because none of the others has Alan Alda as a narrator, with his candor, curiosity, enthusiasm and funny side. He may not be a scientist, but he spent years and years communicating with them, especially during his time as a host for Scientific American Frontiers, the renowned PBS show. During this time, he came up with the idea of creating the Center for Communicating Science: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5q-5... And in terms of communication, he is an expert, there is no doubt about it. He does not give us a lecture; he's telling us a story. He doesn't pretend to have all the knowledge; he gives credit to those who have it. He is just passing the information and tell us the story as he sees it, with vivid and clear examples and on everyone's understanding. The book is about how to become more empathic in relation with others, how to relate to them and develop better communication skills. As most of us are well aware, communication and empathy are the keys in understanding one another in every possible situation you can think of: relationships, work, teaching, doctor-patient relationship, capturing the audience you speak in front of, performing music in public, even writing a book. But in order to understand each other, is not enough to be a good listener; you need to pay attention too to what you say and how the other reacts to that. And he gives a lot of great examples, some personal, some not, but all of them right to the point. “Practicing contact with other people feels good. It’s not like lifting weights. It feels good while you’re doing it, not just after you stop. When it clicks, when you’re in sync with someone, even for the briefest moment, it feels like the pleasure of reconciliation. We’re no longer apart. We have an actual two-way conversation. We go from “No, you’re wrong” to “Oh. Maybe you’re right.” And boom. Dopamine. It’s a good feeling.” There is a lot of information in such a small book; in fact, I think I’ve spent as much time searching the internet for more details as I’ve actually spent reading the book. If I were to compare him with someone else, I would choose Richard Feynman. Doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have the same background; they both share the same passion for science and the gift of storytelling. “We can’t resist stories. We crave them.” Indeed. And Alan Alda is one of the greatest storytellers still out there. Worthy links: Simon Baron-Cohen’ Social Intelligence Test, “Reading the Mind in the Eyes”: http://socialintelligence.labinthewil... Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science: https://www.aldacenter.org/get-starte... The Flame Challenge: https://www.aldacenter.org/outreach/f... Steven Strogatz’s essay on “Writing about Math for the Perplexed and the Traumatized”: https://www.ams.org/notices/201403/rn... About Viola Spolin – her groundbreaking book Improvisation for the Theater transformed American theater and revolutionized the way acting is taught: https://www.violaspolin.org/bio; https://www.secondcity.com/history/ Prof. Matt Lerner Spotlight program for children with Autism, mostly: https://spotlightprogram.com/about-us... Theory of Mind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_... Emotion Recognition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion... "Yes, And..." Improv: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes,_and... A series of podcasts with Alda in conversation with different scientists and not only: https://omny.fm/shows/clear-vivid-wit...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    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, M*A*S*H, 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, M*A*S*H, 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 notice 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...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Char

    Alan Alda is a joy to listen to and he's a good writer. This book, despite its fun title, is a serious tome-focused on getting across how important it is to communicate clearly and effectively. Examples are cited, and exercises and games are detailed to help you do exactly that. Focusing on the other person in a conversation, (not just waiting for your turn to speak), and noting their facial expressions and body language are key. According to Alda, if you are not willing to be changed by a perso Alan Alda is a joy to listen to and he's a good writer. This book, despite its fun title, is a serious tome-focused on getting across how important it is to communicate clearly and effectively. Examples are cited, and exercises and games are detailed to help you do exactly that. Focusing on the other person in a conversation, (not just waiting for your turn to speak), and noting their facial expressions and body language are key. According to Alda, if you are not willing to be changed by a person/conversation then you are NOT really open and listening. It turns out that empathy is really important in effective communication. One of the exercises in this book mentions watching a person's face during a conversation and specifically noting and NAMING, (silently), the emotions you see on their face. This will sometimes tell you what they are going to say or do next. It tells you if they're understanding what you're saying, or if instead they are bored or confused. At times and with practice, it will sometimes seem to people that you can read minds, but what you're really doing is truly LISTENING. Because Alan Alda has such a warm, comfortable style I learned a lot from what in less capable hands could have been a very boring book. It also might be due to the fact that Alda is an extremely effective communicator. I have already started to put some of these games and exercises into practice and I believe they have already helped me in certain areas of my life. If you are open, (read: WILLING TO BE CHANGED), then I highly recommend this book! *I borrowed this audiobook from my awesome public library. Libraries RULE!*

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I know Alan Alda for his acting career, especially in the tv series “Mash” (one of my favorites), but this is the first time I read one of his books. The subject is certainly interesting, especially in modern society where communication plays a leading role. An aspect I didn’t know about the actor is his scientific curiosity, which led in hosting a tv show called "Scientific American Frontiers" for many years and to organize communication courses in all kinds of disciplines. In this book Alda clai I know Alan Alda for his acting career, especially in the tv series “Mash” (one of my favorites), but this is the first time I read one of his books. The subject is certainly interesting, especially in modern society where communication plays a leading role. An aspect I didn’t know about the actor is his scientific curiosity, which led in hosting a tv show called "Scientific American Frontiers" for many years and to organize communication courses in all kinds of disciplines. In this book Alda claims his ideas on a communication based on empathy by exploiting his experience as an actor. He illustrates the importance of convey an idea using body language, as well as words, but also paying attention to the reactions of the audience. In the various chapters, he explains his ideas and anecdotes that have led him to conceive them and the many steps are being taken to help people transmit their knowledge more efficiently, without causing boredom or confusion. Such a procedure can be addressed to anyone in this condition: professors with students, speakers with an audience, doctors on patients. Alan Alda is a wonderful storyteller and we learn what he teaches us by listening to facts he has witnessed, events he has organized, or experiments made by scientists in a totally autonomous way that have led to the same results. Reading the various experiments carried out by Alda and other people to achieve such a result (scientists or other scholars), we often wonder whether it is really possible to reach the level described by the author. I believe that many concepts are correct and can be easily applied in everyday life. A book that I recommend to everyone and cannot leave them indifferent. After all, though it doesn’t convince all, it can push us to know more and this is already a good start. A quote that stuck with me: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better (Samuel Becket)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jake

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

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Kent

    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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    I don't normally pick up books like this since I find that they tend to be too narrowly focused and rely too much on the author's fame to sell the book. Not that I knew who the author was before picking this one up. The title was also very off-putting, but I needed a short filler book and seeing as I don't consider myself the best of communicators, I thought I'd at least learn something. That wasn't the case though. I've pretty much heard all the good advice before and the new things the author I don't normally pick up books like this since I find that they tend to be too narrowly focused and rely too much on the author's fame to sell the book. Not that I knew who the author was before picking this one up. The title was also very off-putting, but I needed a short filler book and seeing as I don't consider myself the best of communicators, I thought I'd at least learn something. That wasn't the case though. I've pretty much heard all the good advice before and the new things the author brought up aren't actually very practical since improv classes aren't exactly around every corner. I did the audiobook version of this which was narrated by the author. I actually enjoyed the narration quite a bit, especially since quite a lot of the content was told from a personal perspective. Every chapter had at least one personal anecdote which made the otherwise dry content a lot more engaging and relatable. You can tell that the author cares about the topic in the way he got excited by the various revelations he described. I also enjoyed the light humour in the writing which was sold very well by the author doing the narration. However, the reason this is getting only 2 stars is that it really didn't have enough practical advice the average person can put into practice. There's a lot of discussion about groups of people that could benefit from improving their communication skills, but apart from the repetitive mentions of improv classes, the main advice was basically 'active listening' and 'have empathy'. Despite being quite short, the repetitive use of the core ideas made it feel longer than it was. Even so, as I'm writing this a couple of days after I finished the book, I've already forgotten most of the content. I guess I got what I expected though and feel justified in my discrimination of these types of books. As you've probably guessed, this isn't a book I'd be recommending to anyone except maybe people who have serious communication issues.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Fun to read, really interesting research and practical usable exercises that could help anyone. Far better than anticipated.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ericka Clouther

    Good book about the importance of good communication and how to improve at communicating with others. I’m familiar with some of the research that Alda referenced from other books. Alda seems to over-emphasize his own ideas and under-emphasize more researched strategies such as reading literary fiction (though he does mention it). He spends too much time making fun of “shakras” and not enough time explaining the research on the effectiveness of meditation and a simple explanation of say, breathe Good book about the importance of good communication and how to improve at communicating with others. I’m familiar with some of the research that Alda referenced from other books. Alda seems to over-emphasize his own ideas and under-emphasize more researched strategies such as reading literary fiction (though he does mention it). He spends too much time making fun of “shakras” and not enough time explaining the research on the effectiveness of meditation and a simple explanation of say, breathe meditation. Still, it is definitely useful to read, and the more people that read it the better.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Raquel Evans

    I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in brain science or improving their empathy and communication skills. As someone who sometimes struggles with social cues I really appreciated the practical chapter on things you can try on your own, without an improv group, to improve skills at reading people's faces and therefore communication.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Riegs

    ***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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Alan Alda has made my life better in two ways, now. The first was M*A*S*H, of course, that show that let me know that grownups could be rebellious too. The second is this book, which doesn't really break any new ground, but reinforces my beliefs that good communication is based in empathy, that the Improv idea of "yes, and" makes most human interactions better, that emotion is the key to memory, and that storytelling is the key to emotion and memory. Yes, and he tells a lot of fascinating, funny Alan Alda has made my life better in two ways, now. The first was M*A*S*H, of course, that show that let me know that grownups could be rebellious too. The second is this book, which doesn't really break any new ground, but reinforces my beliefs that good communication is based in empathy, that the Improv idea of "yes, and" makes most human interactions better, that emotion is the key to memory, and that storytelling is the key to emotion and memory. Yes, and he tells a lot of fascinating, funny stories to help the reader understand and remember it all. Nice job, Mr. Alda.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Judy Fleming

    I read this book for a book club and would not have picked it on my own. While it is not difficult to read, I found it difficult to figure out who the book's is for. While some of the stories are interesting, I can not imagine that I will use any of the obscure methods for improved communication in my daily life. As a book just about funny stories or life lessons it is a little thin. As a book on how to fix communication problems it is not specific enough on the how "'to do"s. Overall it is tota I read this book for a book club and would not have picked it on my own. While it is not difficult to read, I found it difficult to figure out who the book's is for. While some of the stories are interesting, I can not imagine that I will use any of the obscure methods for improved communication in my daily life. As a book just about funny stories or life lessons it is a little thin. As a book on how to fix communication problems it is not specific enough on the how "'to do"s. Overall it is totally forgettable.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    As I was reading this I could easily read it all in Alan Alda’s voice. That’s how well he wrote it (and I guess his voice was more imprinted on my brain than I thought). He kept things interesting and relatable with a touch of humor. It felt like an enjoyable seminar I wish I could’ve attended in person. I’d recommend this book if your interests lie in teaching, science and public communications, or like me, you’re just an Alan Alda fan.

  17. 5 out of 5

    RC1140

    Sigh, this book was sort of interesting in the start. Sadly there is too little useable info, this results in what feels like lots of filler material which is quite boring. This only gets 2 stars because it mirrors some of the content from a number of social engineering books so its not a complete waste. Oddly enough this is the kind of book that applies to me yet I felt like there was little for me to take away from the book. I would find it hard to recommend this to anyone though.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    Heard about this on a podcast. Amusing and occasionally interesting, but not as instructive as I wanted. Apparently I need to join an improv class to become a better communicator... great. 🙄

  19. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    Alan Alda will be presenting in the Twin Cities next week as part of the Pen Pals series, sponsored by the Friends of the Hennepin County Libraries. Learning of his appearance, doing some research about him, and reading this book has been a WHO KNEW? experience from beginning to end. First off, who knew Alda was a writer? I knew him as an actor, director, etc., but not as a writer. So I was surprised to find several books by and about Alda when I did a search at the public library. I decided to Alan Alda will be presenting in the Twin Cities next week as part of the Pen Pals series, sponsored by the Friends of the Hennepin County Libraries. Learning of his appearance, doing some research about him, and reading this book has been a WHO KNEW? experience from beginning to end. First off, who knew Alda was a writer? I knew him as an actor, director, etc., but not as a writer. So I was surprised to find several books by and about Alda when I did a search at the public library. I decided to begin with his most recent publication, "If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communication." Who knew that Alda hosted a television show called, "Scientific American Frontiers" from 1993 - 2005? Who knew of his intense fascination with science? Who knew that he founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science? Who knew? Who knew? Here Alda explores how we can effectively communicate our ideas, zeroing in on scientists in particular. Being married to a scientist, and having spent a lot of time around scientists, I found the topic extremely interesting. However, there is much here that is applicable to all of us. I found his discussions of empathy and writing and literature and nonverbal communication particularly interesting, as these are all things I have taught. Alda's premises all make total sense, nothing totally earth shattering here really. The central question is whether or not he himself accomplishes the very thing he asks of scientists in the writing of this work of nonfiction. Does he effectively communicate his ideas? And if so, how? The answer is that, yes, he generally does communicate his ideas effectively - by not using jargon (loved the SCIgen discussion on pages 186-8!), by tuning into his improvisational training, by exhibiting empathy, by remembering his reader, etc. I am not a nonfiction reader, but I actually really enjoyed this book and look forward to hearing Alda talk more about it next week! Who knew, Alan Alda? Who knew?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Who knew that Alan Alda has been involved with teaching scientists and doctors to communicate with the rest of us since - well, at least since 2009, when he founded the Alda-Kavli Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook? Not me. And I'm delighted that he has, and even more delighted that he wrote a book about his efforts. As a teacher, coach, and consultant on topics of communication, conflict transformation, and empathy, I really appreciate Alda's insights as well as his tips and techniqu Who knew that Alan Alda has been involved with teaching scientists and doctors to communicate with the rest of us since - well, at least since 2009, when he founded the Alda-Kavli Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook? Not me. And I'm delighted that he has, and even more delighted that he wrote a book about his efforts. As a teacher, coach, and consultant on topics of communication, conflict transformation, and empathy, I really appreciate Alda's insights as well as his tips and techniques, many of them learned through his days as an actor and in working with improvisation. I've happily adopted some of his ideas into my own work (with attribution, of course), and plan to explore the ideas of improv in the near future. This is a fun AND informative look at what it means for all of us to communicate better - not just scientists or medical folk - and includes suprisingly easy and remarkably powerful experiments and practices that are helpful for anyone seeking to be a better, more empathetic communicator. Which, in this era of so much upheaval, really ought to be all of us ALAN ALDA has earned international recognition as an actor, writer and director. He has won 7 Emmy Awards, has recieved three Tony nominations, is an inductee of the Television Hall of Fame, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. Alda played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic television series M*A*S*H, and his films include Crimes and Misdemeanors, Everyone Says I Love You, Manhattan Murder Mystery,and Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, and many more. Alda is an active member of the science community, having hosting the award winning series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years and founding the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Alda is the author of two bestselling books, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed- And Other Things I've Learned and Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself. Highly Recommend.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brennan

    I love everything about Alan Alda. Not only is he an amazing actor and entertainer, he has also devoted a significant part of his life to the art and science of communication. This book summarizes these efforts and includes personal experiences, research studies, and insightful ideas about how to communicate more effectively. Ignore the goofy cover - this is a great example of not judging the book by it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    MaskedSanity­

    This was truly a very interesting topic. I first became aware of this book when I heard Mr. Alda discussing it during a podcast interview. While I really did enjoy the stories and concepts in the book, I think it would probably be a better TV series than a book. I think the things discussed in the book could possibly be understood better visually. But, by no means am I speaking poorly of the book. Do not be discouraged from reading it based on this review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Alan Alda isn't a scientist but does have an insatiable curiosity. I would have picked this book up for either the author or the content; the combination is perfect. Way more often than I'd be willing to acknowledge, I've watched a blank or questioning appearance appear upon the face of someone I was talking with. It soon becomes clear what I thought was a very cohesive and concise explanation flew through the ears of my companion without making a stop at the understanding part in the brain. Wha Alan Alda isn't a scientist but does have an insatiable curiosity. I would have picked this book up for either the author or the content; the combination is perfect. Way more often than I'd be willing to acknowledge, I've watched a blank or questioning appearance appear upon the face of someone I was talking with. It soon becomes clear what I thought was a very cohesive and concise explanation flew through the ears of my companion without making a stop at the understanding part in the brain. What did I say? or What didn't I say? Alan teams with different people to try to understand the process. I hope he does more of this type of investigation.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hind H.

    A very interesting read on how to communicate better with people. Usually I’d find it excruciating to read a book that is not literary, but I’ve enjoyed reading most of the chapters of this book and I really felt engaged. Kudos to Alan Alda for knowing how to do that.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    I really enjoyed this book, and I think it'll help me think better about communication. My favorite thing about this book was that it has actionable advice for how to get better at reading people's emotions and responses so you can see whether you're connecting. I also appreciate that the book is short and to the point. The author included a reasonable number of scientific studies and a reasonable number of anecdotes, but not so many that the book feels unfocused or padded.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    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.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anna Bunce

    Anyone who has to communicate to those outside their organization for their job should absolutely read this. So fantastic. And if you do improv or appreciate telling stories you will love this.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paula Dembeck

    Alan Alda is probably best known for the role he played as “Hawkeye” Pierce on the classic series M*A*S*H*, the TV show based on the 1970 Robert Altman movie with the same title. That show lasted eight years running from 1972 to 1983 and Alda has moved on to many other ventures since then with movies, theater and the pursuit of his long standing passion for science. In 1993 he began hosting the PBS-TV series “Scientific American Frontiers” and spent eleven years interviewing scientists, explorin Alan Alda is probably best known for the role he played as “Hawkeye” Pierce on the classic series M*A*S*H*, the TV show based on the 1970 Robert Altman movie with the same title. That show lasted eight years running from 1972 to 1983 and Alda has moved on to many other ventures since then with movies, theater and the pursuit of his long standing passion for science. In 1993 he began hosting the PBS-TV series “Scientific American Frontiers” and spent eleven years interviewing scientists, exploring their discoveries and helping them communicate their work to an audience in layman’s terms. Alda has always been interested in the act of communication, what makes it work, what stalls or enhances it and why some master the skill more easily than others. As an actor he knew the best way to improve his acting was to be a better communicator and so he tried to improve that skill. We all know that what is said by one person is not necessarily what another person hears. Communication is a complex process, more than just sending a few words into the space between the sender and the receiver. The goal of communication is to be understood and Alda believes responsibility for that goal lies with the communicator not the person receiving the message. If you are trying to communicate something and the listener doesn’t follow, it is not simply his job to catch up. It is the sender’s job to slow down and make sure the receiver has it. Otherwise you are just making noise. Alda has spent years gathering information and discussing with experts the obstacles to communication as well as the processes which facilitate it. In 2008 he established the Alan Alda Center for Communication Science in the journalism department at Stony Brook University where research continues to be carried out and where Alda is a visiting professor. The center has taught communication theories and techniques to thousands of students from different disciplines. Through the work he continues to do with others, he has established himself as a legitimate journeyman scientist and his passion for the subject comes through clearly on these pages. The book is divided into two sections, each with a number of chapters. In the first section, “Relating is Everything”, he discusses how effective communication requires listeners to be aware of body language, primed to keep their systems alert and ready to listen with their eyes, ears and feelings. It means being so aware of the other person that you let everything about them affect you, their words, their tone of voice and subtle things like where they are standing or how they sit in a chair. Relating is letting all that seep in and affect how you respond to another person. But simply listening is not enough. Real communication cannot occur if listening consists only of waiting for one person to receive the words of another -- one must make a genuine connection to the other person and that requires respect for how the other person experiences and interprets their world. Alda believes improvisation and theater games are tools which help create genuine responses in our effort to connect with others. Working without a script allows one to remain vulnerable and open to what is being said and to refrain from anticipating a message. He identifies the defenses we have when we relate to another person, often ready to defend, rebut or deny what is being said. These are long established and deeply ingrained behaviors that come into play before we even hear a message. Alda sees communication as a dialogue between the head and the heart. To understand what someone is thinking one must learn to forecast their reactions through their body language and try to understand what the other is feeling through their tone of voice. He illustrates this with examples of what he calls the Mirror Exercise in which two people face each other and make synchronous movements. It demands that each concentrate fully to be able to observe and mimic the other and focuses the attention on what is happening in the present moment. Alda believes one of the most effective ways to communicate is through stories and he uses them to share some of his experience with experts in various scientific disciplines. He supports the principles of emotional intelligence, of developing an acute awareness of the other (Empathy) grasping their feelings and thoughts (what he calls Theory of Mind) and the need to learn how to understand complicated situations. In Part Two “If I Understood You….”, Alda focuses on the importance of empathy, the ability to feel what others are feeling and be affected by that experience. The ability to relate to someone is the first step towards compassion, the state that allows us to connect and communicate better with others. These are skills that can be taught, learned and developed. Alda warns us that communication with the person you are closest to is probably the biggest challenge of all. Marriages dance around petty annoyances and the tone of what we say, often not under our conscious control, can be deadlier than the words we use, changing a perfectly intended phrase into something disastrous. We are often not aware of how our own feelings affect our tone of voice and consequently our message, but he also warns that the more conscious we are of producing a neutral tone, the more manufactured it is likely to sound. An authentic tone is produced deep in the brain not in the voice box and this kind of tone is produced less by a decision to sound a certain way and more by our relationship with others. Although Alda’s focus is effective communication for positive purposes, he does not hesitate to note that there will always be those who are not well intentioned and use these principles for darker purposes. But he has chosen not to spend time on people so blindsided by their biases that they refuse to believe what science shows them, no matter what is communicated or how it is done. That is regretful as there appears to be an increasing need for a better understanding of these processes in our troubled times when climate change, oceans polluted with miles of plastic, overpopulation and air pollution are major social and world issues. Alda describes how science students at Stony Brook have used the techniques he describes to communicate the results of their studies to others. Their ability to communicate scientific findings to audiences in clear and understandable language is an important skill. Disseminating highly technical or complex information to a broader audience unfamiliar with the terminology, processes and jargon routinely used in the scientific community is critical if the information is ever to be used. This is the age of rapid scientific discovery and progress in a variety of complex fields and effective communication is required to bridge the gap between the work of scientists and the general population. People must be able to understand the issues, consider and make informed and rational choices that will ultimately shape our future in the world. This is an interesting book which helps readers better understand the process of human interaction. Like Alda, it is breezy and upbeat as he incorporates story telling which makes it easier to understand and absorb the information. This is not an academic slog despite the large number of intimidating pages of references which are included. Alda’s use of plain language and an easy tone makes it a very comfortable read as he reinforces his main message through each of the chapters: that communicating effectively is a learned skill which can improve with practice over time. For some, none of the information in these pages may be especially surprising, but it is so well presented it may be more easily absorbed. Alda’s passion for the work he is doing quickly engages the reader and keeps him on track with his message. There is no way one cannot take something helpful from these pages. This book is a useful companion to the many other books that try to help us communicate clearly and successfully in business, politics and everyday life. It easily lures readers by its long quirky title and the humourous caricature of Alda on the cover. It is a fun, informative and easy read which I recommend.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lonni

    Not a book you would expect from Alan Alda. Basic thesis is that we all need to learn to communicate better, and we could do it through learning improvisation! He has created a center at the university at Stony Brook. The book rambles in true Alda fashion but never fails to engage you in the process. I think all my teacher friends should read it, since we often fail to communicate with our students!

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