ALAN ALDA COMMUNICATES!

The legendary actor concludes our conversation on communication.

Aired on March 8, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> LAST NIGHT WE BLOUT YOU PART ONE OF MY INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR, WRITER AND DIRECTOR ALAN ALDA.

FOR DECADES ALDA HAS BEEN WORKING WITH SCIENTISTS, TEACHING THEM HOW TO BE BETTER COMMUNICATORS.

NOW HE'S SHARING WHAT HE'S LEARNED ABOUT THE FUNDAMENTALS OF TRUE COMMUNICATION IN HIS BOOK 'IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK OTT MY FACE?'

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RELATING AND COMMUNICATING.

IN PART TWO, ALDA TALKS ABOUT EMPATHY AS THE KEY TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION, AND HOW THE CAST OF 'M-A-S-H' USE D COMEDY TO CREATE EMPATHY ON THE SET.

I BEGIN THIS PART OF THE CONVERSATION BY ASKING ALDA IF HE HAS HIS OWN TECHNIQUE FOR BUILDING GREATER EMPATHY.

I WANTED TO SEE IF I CAN DEVELOP SOMETHING THAT I CAN DO AS KIND OF A HOMEWORK EXERCISE, SORT OF INTERNAL GYMNASIUM WORK WHERE I CAN PRACTICE DURING THE DAY.

I STARTED GOING AROUND AS I WALK THROUGH MANHATTAN, I WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE PEOPLE IN THE STREET WERE FEELING.

AS I PASSED THEM.

YOU LOOK AT THEIR FACE, YOU SEE SOMEBODY IS DISTRACTED AND MAYBE UPSET ABOUT SOMETHING.

WHAT ARE THEY WORRIED ABOUT?

THEN I TALKED WITH A PSYCHOLOGIST, WHO HEARD ME EXPLAIN WHAT I WAS TRYING TO DO.

TRYING TO INCREASE MY EMPATHY BY THIS, THIS EXERCISE I WAS DOING.

AND HE SAID YOU KNOW, I'D LIKE TO STUDY THAT.

SO WE DID A STUDY AND HE HAD A POPULATION OF PEOPLE.

THAT HE TESTED FOR EMPATHY.

WITH A STANDARD TEST.

AND HE HAD THEM GO OUT AND REPORT BACK EVERY TIME THEY HAD AN ENCOUNTER WHERE THEY TRIED TO FIGURE OUT.

DOING WHAT YOU WERE DOING.

DOING WHAT I WAS DOING.

AT THE END THEY TOOK THE EMPATHY TEST AGAIN AND THE RESULTS SHOWED THAT IT'S NOT A BAD IDEA TO TRY IT.

AND THEY IMPROVED.

YOU WERE NOT ONLY JUST LOOKING AT THEM AND TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT.

YOU WERE LABELLING THEM.

I WAS LABELLING THEM.

IT TURNED OUT THAT SOMETIMES JUST NOTICING THEM, NOTICING THE COLOR OF THEIR HAIR, WHETHER THE WOMAN IS WEARING EARRINGS OR WHAT COLOR CLOTHES THEY HAVE ON, THAT SEEMS TO INCREASE YOUR, YOUR EMPATHY AT LEAST FOR A WHILE.

AS WELL.

AND THE FUNNY THING WAS, I WAS TELLING SOMEBODY WHO WORKS WITH US WHO TEACHES WORKSHOPS, AND SHE SAID, I WAS IN A VERY HIGH-PRESSURE MEETING WITH LAWYERS.

AND I WAS GETTING NERVOUS.

ANXIOUS.

AND I WASN'T CONNECTING WITH THEM.

THE CONVERSATION WASN'T GOING THAT WELL.

AND SHE SAID WAIT A MINUTE, SHE SORT OF CLOSED HER EYES, SHE SAID DO I EVEN KNOW WHAT COLOR SUIT THIS PERSON IS WEARING?

SHE LOOKED BACK AT THEM REALLY TOOK THEM IN MORE.

AND THINGS STARTED TO CHANGE.

AND SHE SAID THE CONVERSATION WENT GREAT AFTER THAT.

THAT'S THE KIND OF EXPERIENCE THAT I'VE HAD.

AS I ALLOW THE OTHER PERSON IN.

NOW YOU DON'T TALK MUCH ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AS AN ACTOR IN THIS BOOK.

BUT DO YOU TELL THE STORY ABOUT M.A.S.H. AND THE CAST, HOW IT WAS UNIQUELY CONDUCIVE TO EMPATHY AND TRUE COMMUNICATION.

HOW DID YOU GET THERE?

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME WHAT MADE 'M.A.S.H.' WORK.

THE REASON IT WORKED WAS THE BASIC POINT THAT BASIC IDEA THAT WE WERE PLAYING OUT REAL PEOPLE'S LIVES AND WE, WE TRIED TO TELL THE REAL STORIES AS SILLY AS IT SOMETIMES BECAME.

IT WAS STILL ABOUT LIFE AND DEATH.

AND I THINK THAT'S THE MAIN REASON.

BUT THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT THE PLAYING, THAT THE ACTORS DID.

THE ACTING THAT WE DID.

THAT WAS THE RESULT OF A CONNECTION WE HAD.

AND WE GOT THAT CONNECTION THROUGH DOING SOMETHING SIMILAR TO WHAT WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT.

WHICH WAS, WE DIDN'T GO TO OUR DRESSING ROOMS BETWEEN SHOTS.

BECAUSE THEY TAKE AN HOUR TO LIGHT A SHOT.

WE, MOST OF THE TIME, SAT IN A CIRCUMSTANCE UNTIL CHAIRS AND MADE FUN OF EACH OTHER.

WE JUST LAUGHED.

AND IF YOU LAUGH AND LAUGH AND LAUGH, WHEN YOU'RE LAUGHING TOGETHER, YOU'RE NOT HOSTILE WITH EACH OTHER.

YOU'RE OPEN, YOU'RE VULNERABLE WHEN YOU LAUGH.

THAT'S WHY A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BE TOUGH GUYS DON'T LAUGH.

THEY DON'T CRACK A SMILE.

THEY'RE MORE SUPERIOR THAN THIS MOMENT OF OPENNESS AND JOCULARITY.

YOU WRITE IN THE BOOK THAT WRITERS CAN ACHIEVE EMPATHY WITH THEIR READERS.

LIKE SITTING IN FRONT --

HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

IT'S BASED ON THE IDEA THAT YOU CAN MAKE A GOOD ESTIMATE OF WHAT THE PERSON IS THINKING AND FEELING DEPENDING ON WHAT YOU SAY TO THEM FIRST.

YOU SEE, YOU WRITE THE FIRST SENTENCE, YOU'RE DOING SOMETHING TO THEIR BRAIN WITH THAT FIRST SENTENCE.

WHERE ARE THEY IN THEIR HEAD?

IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY COMMUNICATING WITH A LIVE PERSON WHEN YOU WRITE THIS, AND YOU'RE A LITTLE LESS CONCERNED WITH EXACTLY HOW YOU WANT TO SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY.

AND YOU'RE MORE CONCERNED WITH -- HOW WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY LANDS ON THE PERSON WHO IS DOING THE READING.

AND IT IS IMPORTANT WHAT YOU SAY.

BUT HOW IT LANDS AND MAKE IT MORE EFFECTIVE.

SO I THINK I FOUND THAT WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE PERSON AT THE OTHER END OF THE LENS OR AT THE OTHER END OF MY KEYBOARD, OR JUST IN THE SPACE BETWEEN US AT THE OTHER END OF THAT SPACE IF I THINK ABOUT THEM, HOW THEY'RE GETTING IT, WHAT THEY'RE GOING THROUGH, IT MAKES SOMETHING HAPPEN BETWEEN US.

AND THEN YOU'RE BETTER ABLE TO ANSWER WHAT I REALLY HAVE TO SAY.

YOU'RE NOT ANSWERING SOMETHING, YOU'RE NOT ANSWERING DEFENSIVELY SO MUCH.

I'M NOT DEFENSE ABOUT WHAT YOU MIGHT SAY TO ME.

IT'S A MORE OPEN CONVERSATION.

ALAN, THINK IT'S SAFE TO SAY, THAT IN OUR LIFETIMES, THIS COUNTRY HAS NEVER BEEN MORE DIVIDED.

YEAH.

AND THE UNWILLINGNESS TO EVEN BE OPEN TO COMMUNICATION, I MEAN PEOPLE ARE BEING SHOUTED DOWN AT UNIVERSITIES BECAUSE WE DON'T WANT TO HEAR THEM.

RIGHT.

HOW DO WE DO A MASSIVE INJECTION OF EMPATHY IN COMMUNICATION SKILLS IN AN ENVIRONMENT LIKE WE ARE?

I DON'T KNOW.

I WOULDN'T BE SO ARROGANT AS TO SAY THAT THIS BOOK I'VE WRITTEN WILL FIX THE COUNTRY.

IT WILL FIX THE PEOPLE WHO READ IT.

IT'S, I MUST SAY, THAT WHEN PEOPLE, WHEN TENSIONS ARE TOUGH, I DON'T THINK, I DON'T THINK IT'S HELPED TO TAKE A DEFENSIVE OR AGGRESSIVE ATTITUDE.

I THINK LISTENING, REALLY LISTENING AND REALLY LISTENING IN A WAY THAT'S KIND OF RADICAL, WILL, WILL DAMP DOWN THE TENSIONS.

THE BOOK IS, 'IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK ON MY FACE?'

I GUARANTEE IF YOU READ IT IT YOU'LL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

I LOVE IT THAT YOU FELT IT CHANGED YOU.

THAT'S SO GOOD.

ALAN, THANK YOU, IT'S BEEN A THRILL TALKING TO YOU.

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