Alan Alda | Non-Fiction
When a client is reading a book and finds it important enough to bring up in a coaching session, I take that to heart and read the book with my client; in this case, my client Chuck inspired me to read If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face? by Alan Alda.
It's by Alan Alda, for heaven's sake. Yes, you expect it to be funny. And it is. You expect him to talk about MASH, and he does, but only once. This isn't a “use your 'I' statements and paraphrase what you think you just heard” type of communication book. No, this book is about real communication, and our responsibility as the speaker for all the communication that occurs or doesn’t occur.
What blew me out of the water is how much this book is about improvisational theater. I have a passion for improv. I have been learning and performing improv for five years and two months. And Alda believes that improv is the single best training ground for how to communicate. It's fascinating and inspiring! He reframes the power of improv for me.
He talks throughout the book about empathy, which he defines as “having an instantaneous, primal awareness of another's inner state” and Theory of Mind, which is about understanding what is going on in another person's mind. These are the critical components of communication: being aware of emotions and thoughts in the other.
This book is delightful to read. Now granted, I was sitting at home with an elevated sprained ankle while I read it, but it took me just over a day. Yes, you will communicate differently after you read If I Understood You ..... And you will enjoy learning!
p.s. a disclaimer. In my posting on Against Empathy, I wrote about how rational Paul Bloom’s argument is for "compassion" and against "empathy." But he defined empathy as feeling another's feelings. I think Alda's definition of being aware of another's feelings is a very different and much more useful use of the word.
Read Alda’s book. Have fun. Maybe you (and I) will even communicate better. Then again, maybe not. Either way, I will watch the look on your face.