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

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.


6 responses on “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

  1. David Sigetich

    Ok, you got me on this one.Little time to read — still working two jobs. Recently re-re-re-watched M*A*S*H the 11-year TV series, so I’m ready for more Alan Alda.

    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      Do you listen to books on your commute, David? This would be a good one for that — its nit heavy with details or character development or anything!

  2. Mary C Crawford

    So does Alda write about non-face to face communication? How much communication, even sensitive, emotional type, is done through texting and email? What are his comments on that?

    What happened to you and your ankle?

    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      He does address writing a bit, late in the book — applying the same principles he uses for face to face.
      Sprained my ankle hiking. Klutz.

  3. Charlene Rynders

    That does sound like a fun book to read as well as helpful. Maybe it will help me with my “Being Present” word.

    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      Hmmm, Charlene. I will be curious what you think about this book and Being Present …