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If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?    by Alan Alda order for
If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?
by Alan Alda
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Alan Alda has long been my hero, not only for enriching our lives with M*A*S*H's Hawkeye, but also for writing Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. Now he takes his host of fans into the realm of science (and what it - and improv acting - say about our attempts at communication) in If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating.

As one would expect, Alda communicates his topic clearly, with humor, wit and catchy comparisons. The quote at the beginning of the book sums it all up well - 'The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.' The book is divided into two main parts - Relating is Everything and Getting Better at Reading Others - and exercises (that the author has tested) to improve communication are mentioned throughout.

Alda tells us that 'Developing empathy and learning to recognize what the other person is thinking are both essential to good communication, and are what this book is about.' He proceeds to explain how and why. Much of his understanding grew from his experience as an actor and also his involvement with the PBS show, Scientific American Frontiers, in which he had to communicate directly with scientists and draw from them explanations that laymen would understand and connect with. On the show he learned contagious listening.

He tells us how improv exercises help engineers communicate their work; how mirroring can improve cooperation and trust between individuals; how the presence of women in a group enhances teamwork; the importance of expressing Yes And (acceptance and deep listening); and how too much information can be detrimental to getting key ideas across. And its not all upbeat - Alda also conveys the downside of dark empathy, and the pros and cons of jargon.

The chapter I enjoyed most, Story and the Brain, speaks to the importance of story to mankind, in both communication and memory. And Alda ends his book on a humorous note with a self-deprecating account of poor communication with a grandchild. I devoured this volume in one sitting and look forward to another - perhaps Mr. Alda could apply his excellent communication skills to explain global warming to the unenlightened, and give all our grandkids a future.

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