Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Alan Alda (MJCCA 6/21): five takeaways from his newest book on better communication

This was posted Wednesday, June 21, 2017 by Rodney Ho/ from his AJC Radio & TV Talk

Alan Alda will always be the wise-cracking doc Hawkeye on "M*A*S*H" to a huge segment of the American audience, but 34 years after the show's record-breaking finale, he remains an active speaker, author and actor.

The 81 year old's latest project is a book about his efforts to improve communications between scientists and the public and doctors with their patients. It's entitled with Alda-like sardonic flair: "If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?"

He is coming to the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, June 27 to discuss the book and any other topic audience members might broach. (Buy tickets here.)

My interview with Alda about his book on our subscription-only site

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Here are five takeaways from Alda's book:

1- Improv is good for your health - and you don't have to be funny. Alda has done workshops where he gets people to do different improv exercises to help connect better with other people. Examples:

  • Mirroring: One person tries to match another person's movement in as close to real time as possible.
  • Gibberish: Sell a product but don't use real words. It all comes down to body language, your emotions and how you demonstrate it.
  • Tug of war: Do a tug of war with two teams but without an actual rope.
  • What's the relationship: Enter a room and start explaining a scientific concept to somebody. The person listening has to figure out what his or her relationship is to that person by the way that person is explaining something. Could it be a spouse, a child, a college student?

2- Empathy doesn't have to be static. Some people are naturally more empathetic than others. ("I feel your pain," said Bill Clinton - and you believed it.) But empathy is not like your height. It can change. You can use exercises where you not only try to recognize your own feelings but also guess the feelings of others. This builds awareness of other people and what they are thinking. The result: empathy grows. Improv exercises mentioned earlier also help folks go up on the empathy scale. So does meditation.

3- Teams function better with women in it. The more women in a group, the better it tends to work, which may be in part because women tend to be more empathetic than men.

4- Strong emotion and good story-telling make things memorable. Speeches that include both emotion and a compelling story tend to stick in people's brains more than just a recitation of facts and arguments. This may sound exceedingly obvious but it's easier said than done.

5- The curse of knowledge. In sales, knowing negative knowledge you're trying to keep from a potential buyer could potentially hurt your ability to sell that car. Deep down, you know a car with low mileage actually was beat up on rough roads so you price it too low. And once you're an "expert," it's easy to forget the stance of a beginner. People often assume others know more than they do as well. There's a game where people tap a song out based on the beats in their head but without the melody, the other folks have a hard time figuring the song out. But the tapper frequently thinks more people get it than really well because they already know the melody playing in their head nobody else can hear.


Alan Alda

7:30 p.m., Tuesday

$33 for members, $37 for non members (includes copy of his new book)

Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta

5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody

NOTE: Alda will not be signing books on site. All purchased books will be pre-signed

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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