Alan Alda, the Emmy-award winning actor (M*A*S*H, The West Wing, Horace and Pete), is also an author. His new book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? (Random House), is a guide to how we all can communicate better. It’s based on the art of improvisation and his work with doctors and scientists at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Alda, 81, spoke with USA TODAY’s Jocelyn McClurg on Facebook Live as part of the #BookmarkThis video series. Here are highlights:
Q: You’re a pretty good communicator yourself, starting with your book titles. Before your new book you also wrote two best-selling memoirs, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. What’s your secret to coming up with catchy titles?
A: I have a kind of illness. I can’t help looking for what’s funny in something. It seemed more fun to say “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and Other Things I’ve Learned” instead of saying “My Life and How Great It Was.” Although that’s not bad. (Laughs).
Q: You tell a great story in your new book about an experience at the dentist, who you told you, “There will be some tethering.” This incident became a symbol for you of poor communication.
A: I was too timid. I was over the age of 50, so I should have had the wherewithal to say, “Put the knife down, let’s talk about this, help me understand what you’re going to do to my face.” I didn’t and he cut this little tissue, the frenum, in between your gum and your upper lip. I was making a movie a couple weeks later and I was trying to smile and the cameraman said, “Why are you sneering?”… I still don’t know what tethering means. (The dentist) gave…