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

Number of pages: 336

Publisher: Random House

BBB Library: Communication

ISBN: 978-1524781927

About the Author

Alan Alda was born on January 28, 1936, in New York City. He made his Broadway debut in 1959 and his film debut in 1963, but it was his role on the television series M*A*S*H (1972–83) that earned him his greatest popularity. Alda earned more than 20 Emmy nominations and won five times for his work on the series, which provided a showcase for his talents as a socially conscious writer, director and performer.


Editorial Review

Drawing on improvisation training, theater, and storytelling techniques from a life of acting, and with insights from recent scientific studies, Alan Alda describes ways we can build empathy, nurture our innate mind-reading abilities, and improve the way we relate and talk with others. Exploring empathy-boosting games and exercises, If I Understood You is a funny, thought-provoking guide that can be used by all of us, in every aspect of our lives—with our friends, lovers, and families, with our doctors, in business settings, and beyond.

Book Reviews

“Bright, breezy, and upbeat . . . In writing this book, Alda follows his own advice: Communicate through storytelling.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

“Alda uses his trademark humor and a well-honed ability to get to the point, to help us all learn how to leverage the better communicator inside each of us.”—Forbes

“A distinguished actor and communication expert shows how to avoid ‘the snags of misunderstanding’ that plague verbal interactions between human beings. . . . A sharp and informative guide to communication.”—Kirkus Reviews

Books on Related Topics

Wisdom to Share

Relating is being so aware of the other person that you’re observing them. It’s letting everything about them affect you; not just their words, but also their tone of voice, their body language, even subtle things like where they’re standing in the room or how they occupy a chair.

In acting, relating is fundamental. You don’t say the next line simply because it’s the script. You say it because the other person has behaved in a way that makes you say it.

Being truly connected to the other person happens when we see them in a way that’s both emotional and rational, especially if we include listening with our eyes: looking for clues in the face, in gestures—in all the nonverbal signs of a state of mind.

Empathy gives us a sense of what’s going on in the heart, but we also need to be aware of what the head is up to—what the other person is thinking.

Our understanding of what’s going on in the other person’s mind is the result of several kinds of listening. We put together all the clues we can—facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and any telling words they let drop.

The person who is communicating something is responsible for how well the other person follows him. If I’m trying to explain something and you don’t follow me, it’s not simply your job to catch up. It’s my job to slow down.

The more women you had in the group, the higher the level of empathy the whole group had, and the better it performed.

There’s no doubt that leadership is important, but just as important is how leadership is communicated. You can command good performance from someone in exchange for not firing them, or you might be able to ignite the desire in a person to perform well by turning in to their state of mind.

Every time I open a package, the company that made it is communicating with me. When I can’t open a hard plastic “clamshell” container with scissors or a knife, or even a hammer, I wonder, has the president of the company ever personally tried to open this thing?

Success in selling has been shown in a number of studies to improve when the salesperson listens to the client and actively expresses an understanding of their thoughts and emotions.

We might not think our true feelings are showing, but our partners can read our feelings nonetheless. All the more reason to be good at reading our own emotions, as well as the emotions of the other person, and then being able to regulate those emotions. Or the volcano could below.