PERPETUAL RADAR...PR and MORE

"Keeping an Eye on the Ball 24/7 "

Author: Dawn Dinsdale-Hunt (page 1 of 173)

‘NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA…’

‘… END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS’ part four

by Cy Wakeman
Published by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250144065
eBook ISBN: 9781250149732
Copyright (c) 2017 by Cy Wakeman

Buy the Book


“That’s what the nurse did. “Once I went back in there and responded in a way that greatness demanded, the way I think I should have in the first place, it was fine,” she told her supervisor later. “I told the patient that I was happy this mix-up had been caught and I was going to take care of her and make sure she got the procedure for which she was scheduled and the best possible care. I emphasized that everyone at the medical center was committed to her care.”

The patient had been grateful and reassured, and the nurse felt great about helping her get there. Everything turned out the way it should. The nurse acknowledged to the supervisor that after she had calmed down and thought about it, she realized admissions typically did a superlative job. Human errors happen, and the admissions process had been designed with a backstop in mind—it required a second check by the nurse to ensure accuracy of the records.

The nurse would benefit from a similar process backstop, as someone else would be required to check on her work to make sure the patient was safe and treated well and had a great outcome. Even so, the nurse offered to help go over the breakdown with the admissions team in an effort to prevent future errors.

The simple question “What would great look like right now?” is completely disarming. It demands that people reflect on their own contribution to great results. It stops emotional waste in its tracks. It relies on a positive belief that everyone is capable and smart and knows what great looks like. People often just need
coaching and encouragement, in the moment, to recognize reality, move beyond their egos, and make the choices that will lead to greatness.

In our work, we tell leaders one of their principal roles is to issue “the call to greatness” and help others be great. That’s the definition of leadership. Keep reading, and we’ll show you how to do it.

CHAPTER ONE

DRAMA AND THE DATA

As a committed lover of reality and a student of the facts, my career has been built on deconstructing conventional wisdom and helping people stop counterproductive practices. One of the ways I do this is with scientific studies. As I do research, counterintuitive truths often emerge. When I find something to be the opposite of what I had thought was true, I get super jazzed because of the opportunities that presents.

When I was confronted with a leadership dilemma in the early 1990s, a research project (chronicled in my first book, Reality-Based Leadership) and an accidental discovery led me to become what I consider myself today, a drama researcher. 

I was working as a clinical coordinator of several small clinics associated with a large medical center. At that time, cutting-edge technology had me excited about rocking the physicians’ worlds with an electronic medical record that would make cumbersome paper charts obsolete. Physicians and staff would be able to enter their notes into a computer in real time. Genius! This technology would make doctors more efficient and give them more time to focus on patients. No longer would they have to dictate comments and wait to review transcriptions of patient notes. Patient records would be centralized and accessible to providers no matter where patients entered the medical system—via the Emergency Care department, the clinic, or hospital admissions. The technology would lead to patients getting higher-quality care with more consistency. We were making a rational move based on a well-developed business plan. Slam dunk, I thought.

Except the physicians weren’t ready to have their world rocked. They were openly opposed to using the technology and skeptical about the purported time savings. This small ripple of skepticism led to waves of resistance that churned the entire system. Physicians were convinced this new tool would slow them down, so I fell back on what I knew. My team and I would gather data and see what reality said. 

We created a time-study research project. I was excited about flexing my research muscles but wanted to keep the project simple. Observers were assigned to watch physicians as they worked in the exam rooms and to record time increments in one of two columns. The first column tracked the time physicians spent working directly with patients. The second documented time they spent typing notes into the computer. The data collected would allow us to compare the findings with existing data on time spent documenting patient
records.

It wasn’t long before the observers called to tell me they needed a third column. They insisted something was showing up that we hadn’t factored in. Initially I resisted adding a third bucket of data collection because I didn’t want the complication. But the third column turned out to provide the most startling revelation in the study.
_________________________________________________________________

***** TABLE OF CONTENTS *****

Introduction
1. Drama and the Data
2. Ego versus Reality
3. A New Role for the Leader
4. Broken Engagement (Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off)
5. The Happy Marriage of Accountability and Engagement
6. Understanding Accountability
7. Change Management Is So 20th Century
8. Business Readiness
9. Buy-in”

FROM THE BOOK JACKET:

For years now, leaders in almost every industry have accepted two completely false assumptions–that change is hard, and that engagement drives results. Those beliefs have inspired expensive attempts to shield employees from change, involve them in high-level decision-making, and keep them happy with endless satisfaction surveys and workplace perks. But what these engagement programs actually do, Cy Wakeman says, is inflate expectations and sow unhappiness, leaving employees unprepared to adapt to even minor changes necessary to the organizations survival. Rather than driving performance and creating efficiencies, these programs fuel entitlement and drama, costing millions in time and profit.

It is high time to reinvent leadership thinking. Stop worrying about your employees happiness, and start worrying about their accountability. Cy Wakeman teaches you how to hire emotionally inexpensivepeople, solicit only the opinions you need, and promote self-awareness in your whole team. No Ego disposes with unproven HR maxims, and instead offers a complete plan to turn your office from a den of discontent to a happy, productive place.


AUTHOR INFO: 

Cy Wakeman is a drama researcher, international leadership speaker, and consultant. In 2001 she founded Reality-Based Leadership. She is the author of two books, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses into Results (2010) and the New York Times bestseller The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, and Will Make You Happier (2013). In 2017 she was named as one of the Top 30 Global Leadership Gurus by Global Gurus, a Top 100 Leadership Expert to Follow on Twitter, and was deemed “the secret weapon to restoring sanity to the workplace.” She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. 

This week’s selection ‘NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA, END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS. by Cy Wakeman ‘appears Monday thru Friday and comes to you courtesy of dearreader.com and BurlingtonPublicLibrary.ca Business Online Book Club.

Buy the Book

‘NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA…’

‘… END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS’ part three

by Cy Wakeman
Published by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250144065
eBook ISBN: 9781250149732
Copyright (c) 2017 by Cy Wakeman

Buy the Book


“Now imagine that hypothetical organization has 10 senior leaders, and each spends a minimum of 5 hours a week dealing with the drama that creates emotional waste. (And that’s a conservative estimate, based on our research.) Let’s give these leaders salaries that average $60 an hour. That’s another $156,000 of money spent on something that has no return on investment.

Would you continue pouring money into a stock that consistently lost that kind of money? You’d be crazy to do that, but at least you’re able to see when a stock is losing money. In organizations, emotional waste has been an invisible leakage, much like the slow leak in the upstairs shower that goes unnoticed until the ceiling and walls collapse and cause untold damage.

RECAPTURING RESOURCES

Imagine the dramatic impact on profitability that would be seen if you could recapture the two-plus hours per employee per day expended on emotional waste. That is what the Reality-Based philosophy is all about.

Not only have organizations that we’ve worked with seen profound cost savings through the increase in productivity and improved results, they have seen measurable improvements in engagement, collaboration, and cross-departmental teamwork. They have been better able to retain the employees who are highly accountable, do more work with less staff, and increase innovation. They have experienced measurable improvements in organizational metrics, such as work efficiency, quality control, safety scores, and customer satisfaction.

In this book, I’ll show you what is possible by sharing stories collected in my decades of work using the Reality-Based philosophy to dramatically increase employee accountability, which leads to increased engagement and improved results. Most important, this book provides easy-to-use tools and methods, which can be implemented immediately, to help you recapture the hours wasted on processing drama. It builds on the concepts in my previous books, Reality-Based Leadership and Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace. You will learn to see the science of employee engagement in a new way and understand why the ways organizations have historically measured employee engagement are fundamentally flawed. You will come to understand that the means by which most leaders seek to manage change actually fuels drama and stunts employee development. 

In fact, let me tell you a story right now. It happened at a major Midwestern medical center I worked with. In a potentially disastrous situation, a leader who had Reality-Based training asked one key question that led to fast, profound change for her, the employee she was coaching, and the experience of a patient.

A nurse who had just begun her shift entered a patient’s room. Her mission was to explain the surgical procedure for which the patient had been scheduled and outline the preparations that she, as the assigned nurse, would be doing. The details were contained in the electronic medical records.

Unfortunately, the nurse was explaining a procedure that the patient wasn’t scheduled to have. The information on the record was incorrect, and the wrong procedure was listed. 

You can imagine the drama that ensued. The patient, already fearful and anxious about having surgery, became borderline hysterical. She questioned the competency of the nurse and the hospital, as well as her decision to have the procedure in the first place. She demanded to leave.

The nurse was equally furious about being put in the position of giving bad information to a patient. Instead of trying to calm the patient down or reassure her that she would get to the bottom of it, she told the patient abruptly, “This is not acceptable! Excuse me. I’ll be back.” And she left the room to find her supervisor.

In an unmitigated state of fury, the nurse catapulted herself into a BMW and drove it to her supervisor’s office. Loudly and angrily, she began to vent. How could admissions be so incompetent? What the [expletive] was she supposed to say to this patient? Errors like these cause patients serious harm, injury, or even death! Someone should be fired! If she, the nurse, had done her job in such a sloppy way, she surely would be. And why should she have to be the one to clean up this mess with the patient?

The leader knew the distraught patient was waiting, and there was no time for extensive coaching or problem-solving. She asked the nurse to take a deep breath or two in order to calm down a bit. She acknowledged the difficult situation. And then she asked the question: “Tell me, what would great look like right now?”

The nurse was taken aback. But to her credit, she took the question seriously.

Well, she said, “great” would be acknowledging to the patient that an error had been made and then doing her best to calm and comfort a fearful, angry person who was asking to be discharged immediately. “Great” would mean tracking down the orders for the procedure the patient was scheduled to have, with the signatures of the patient’s doctors. Another way to be great would be to reassure the patient that the situation was not indicative of the quality of care she could expect from this hospital. It would mean finding the patient’s doctors so they could visit the patient before the procedure and provide additional reassurance. “Great” would be doing everything in her power to serve the patient, doing her utmost to ensure the best possible outcome. And “great” would mean being helpful to other members of the healthcare team instead of criticizing and demanding someone lose his or her job.

“Good,” the supervisor replied. “Then go be great.””


FROM THE BOOK JACKET:

For years now, leaders in almost every industry have accepted two completely false assumptions–that change is hard, and that engagement drives results. Those beliefs have inspired expensive attempts to shield employees from change, involve them in high-level decision-making, and keep them happy with endless satisfaction surveys and workplace perks. But what these engagement programs actually do, Cy Wakeman says, is inflate expectations and sow unhappiness, leaving employees unprepared to adapt to even minor changes necessary to the organizations survival. Rather than driving performance and creating efficiencies, these programs fuel entitlement and drama, costing millions in time and profit.

It is high time to reinvent leadership thinking. Stop worrying about your employees happiness, and start worrying about their accountability. Cy Wakeman teaches you how to hire emotionally inexpensivepeople, solicit only the opinions you need, and promote self-awareness in your whole team. No Ego disposes with unproven HR maxims, and instead offers a complete plan to turn your office from a den of discontent to a happy, productive place.


AUTHOR INFO: 

Cy Wakeman is a drama researcher, international leadership speaker, and consultant. In 2001 she founded Reality-Based Leadership. She is the author of two books, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses into Results (2010) and the New York Times bestseller The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, and Will Make You Happier (2013). In 2017 she was named as one of the Top 30 Global Leadership Gurus by Global Gurus, a Top 100 Leadership Expert to Follow on Twitter, and was deemed “the secret weapon to restoring sanity to the workplace.” She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. 

This week’s selection ‘NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA, END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS. by Cy Wakeman ‘appears Monday thru Friday and comes to you courtesy of dearreader.com and BurlingtonPublicLibrary.ca Business Online Book Club.

Buy the Book

‘ NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA…’

‘END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS’ part two

by Cy Wakeman

Published by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250144065
eBook ISBN: 9781250149732
Copyright (c) 2017 by Cy Wakeman

Buy the Book


“After this proverbial “aha!” moment, I abandoned the OpenDoor Policy. It was one of my first acts of Reality-Based Leadership. I didn’t shut the door on my team members, exactly, but I began changing the conversation when they asked for a minute. Instead of passively listening or directing, I began asking questions:

“What do you know for sure?”

“What is your part in this?”

“What are your ideas for resolving this issue?”

“What are you doing to help?”

When they came to me with narratives about the problems they encountered, I gave them a mental process that forced them to deconstruct their “stories” and move into action. The process shifted their thinking to a focus on the facts. And it asked them to outline proposed solutions or helpful actions that would positively
affect the situation. 

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM FAIL

The Open-Door Policy failure got me thinking more about the conventional wisdom that had been dispensed in my leadership training. What if what we had been taught in HR’s leadership boot camps was all wrong? Based on the results we were getting, the traditional leadership methods certainly didn’t seem to be working. 

I could see the damage being done when employees were what I came to label “emotionally expensive.” These were the folks who spent their time arguing with reality instead of confronting it directly. They contributed opinions instead of taking action. They judged others instead of offering help. They saw themselves as victims of cruel circumstances instead of recognizing that circumstances are the reality within which they must succeed. 

One of the first mental processes I taught employees, adapted from my cognitive therapy background, was to edit stories and eliminate the emotional churn that muddied the waters and obscured reality. People began to learn productive ways to resolve their own issues. They began to figure out what the real business issues were and come up with productive options for tackling them. They stopped the BMW driving. It wasn’t long before our team began operating in a completely different way. Although leaders in other departments were getting bogged down in constant firefighting, the teams I worked with were becoming independent, efficient, and highly engaged. 

That recognition sparked in me even more introspection about the role of a leader. I began to wonder: What if a leader’s role isn’t to improve morale or motivate employees? What if a leader’s role isn’t to keep employees engaged and happy? In fact, that expectation sets up leaders for failure. They can’t motivate others—people make their own choices about motivation, accountability, commitment, and happiness.

A leader would better serve the organization by refusing to foster the daily theatrics at work and by coaching employees in ways that are grounded in reality. After all, not a single budget I have ever seen or managed has a line item for Ego Management. But even my short experience with the Open-Door Policy had shown me drama and emotional waste were costing the company big time.

COSTLY LEAKAGES

After more than 20 years of working with the Reality-Based philosophy and honing Reality-Based tools in hundreds of organizations, I’m excited to be writing this book because I now have research data that quantify the cost of ego-driven emotional waste. Organizations are losing billions of dollars annually.

They lose money in two ways. First, they’re investing money and organizational energy in employee engagement surveys, HR initiatives, and learning-and-development programs that actually exacerbate the problems they’re trying to solve. Second, organizations aren’t developing leaders who have the mind-sets,
methods, and tools they need to help them bypass ego and eliminate costly emotional waste.

Although I have more than 20 years of qualitative experience from consulting in hundreds of organizations, I wanted to quantify the amount of emotional waste found in typical organizations to help leaders calculate the costs of workplace drama. My company, Reality-Based Leadership, recently partnered with The Futures Company to capture data around the phenomenon that the Open-Door Policy brought to my attention.

Our research found that the average employee spends 2 hours and 26 minutes per day in drama and emotional waste. 

Wages and salaries vary greatly from organization to organization, of course, but let’s use a hypothetical company with 100 employees, each earning $30 an hour and working 40 hours a week. Annually, wages paid would equal $6,240,000. Based on our research on the cost of emotional waste, well over $1,794,000 would have to be written off as a loss.”


FROM THE BOOK JACKET:

two completely false assumptions–that change is hard, and that engagement drives results. Those beliefs have inspired expensive attempts to shield employees from change, involve them in high-level decision-making, and keep them happy with endless satisfaction surveys and workplace perks. But what these engagement programs actually do, Cy Wakeman says, is inflate expectations and sow unhappiness, leaving employees unprepared to adapt to even minor changes necessary to the organizations survival. Rather than driving performance and creating efficiencies, these programs fuel entitlement and drama, costing millions in time and profit.

It is high time to reinvent leadership thinking. Stop worrying about your employees happiness, and start worrying about their accountability. Cy Wakeman teaches you how to hire emotionally inexpensivepeople, solicit only the opinions you need, and promote self-awareness in your whole team. No Ego disposes with unproven HR maxims, and instead offers a complete plan to turn your office from a den of discontent to a happy, productive place.


AUTHOR INFO: 

Cy Wakeman is a drama researcher, international leadership speaker, and consultant. In 2001 she founded Reality-Based Leadership. She is the author of two books, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses into Results (2010) and the New York Times bestseller The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, and Will Make You Happier (2013). In 2017 she was named as one of the Top 30 Global Leadership Gurus by Global Gurus, a Top 100 Leadership Expert to Follow on Twitter, and was deemed “the secret weapon to restoring sanity to the workplace.” She lives in Omaha, Nebraska. 

This week’s selection ‘NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA, END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS. by Cy Wakeman ‘appears Monday thru Friday and comes to you courtesy of dearreader.com and BurlingtonPublicLibrary.ca Business Online Book Club.

Buy the Book

‘NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA’…

‘…END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS’ part one

by Cy Wakeman
Published by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250144065
eBook ISBN: 9781250149732
Copyright (c) 2017 by Cy Wakeman

Buy the Book


FROM THE BOOK JACKET:

For years now, leaders in almost every industry have accepted two completely false assumptions–that change is hard, and that engagement drives results. Those beliefs have inspired expensive attempts to shield employees from change, involve them in high-level decision-making, and keep them happy with endless satisfaction surveys and workplace perks. But what these engagement programs actually do, Cy Wakeman says, is inflate expectations and sow unhappiness, leaving employees unprepared to adapt to even minor changes necessary to the organizations survival. Rather than driving performance and creating efficiencies, these programs fuel entitlement and drama, costing millions in time and profit.

It is high time to reinvent leadership thinking. Stop worrying about your employees happiness, and start worrying about their accountability. Cy Wakeman teaches you how to hire emotionally inexpensive people, solicit only the opinions you need, and promote self-awareness in your whole team. No Ego disposes with unproven HR maxims, and instead offers a complete plan to turn your office from a den of discontent to a happy, productive place.


AUTHOR INFO: 

Cy Wakeman is a drama researcher, international leadership speaker, and consultant. In 2001 she founded Reality-Based Leadership. She is the author of two books, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses into Results (2010) and the New York Times bestseller The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value, Kills Your Chances, and Will Make You Happier (2013). In 2017 she was named as one of the Top 30 Global Leadership Gurus by Global Gurus, a Top 100 Leadership Expert to Follow on Twitter, and was deemed “the secret weapon to restoring sanity to the workplace.” She lives in Omaha, Nebraska.


“INTRODUCTION

SHUT THE CONVENTIONAL DOOR

My entry into Reality-Based Leadership started with the Open-Door Policy.

After several years as a family therapist, I got a promotion in my organization. For the first time, I would be leading a team, which got me a free ticket to the Human Resources boot camp for managers. Designed to prepare me for my new organizational role, it was a crash course in the current conventional wisdom around leadership.

One particularly juicy leadership gem, delivered to me by trainers with all the confidence in the world, was that a great leader always has an open door.

An open door? That was easy. Not only was I going to have an Open-Door Policy, I was going to ace it! I hustled down to the gift shop at the health center where I worked and bought a doorstop to make a visible and decorative point: I’d have the most outstanding open door in the organization.

The Open-Door Policy did exactly what it was supposed to do. Soon team members began popping their heads into my open door.

“Do you have a minute?” they asked.

“Sure, I have two!” I’d reply. “Come on in.”

It didn’t take long to realize that these people were liars. They’d ask for a minute or two, but they stayed planted in my office for an average of 45 minutes.

Now, if they had really needed me—to talk through a critical decision for serving the business or to help them develop or hone skills—the time investment would have had a satisfying payoff. But people weren’t coming to me for that.

People came in to tattle on others. They wanted to tell me stories about things that had happened only in their heads. Or they’d vent about circumstances that couldn’t be changed (what I call reality). They’d use our time to spin fantasies about a dismal or doomed future. Frequently, it was a combination of these things. I spent the majority of these impromptu “Got a minute?” meetings listening to elaborate narratives that had almost no basis in reality.

The kicker? At the end of the meeting, they would say to me, with a straight face: “Please don’t do anything about this. I just wanted you to be aware.”

As I witnessed the economic effect of this Open-Door Policy in action, it made no sense to me. Where was the return on the investment I had made in that doorstop? Can you imagine what would happen if I went to the CEO and said, “I plan to spend 10 hours a day in a series of 45-minute one-on-one meetings talking about stuff that doesn’t add one whit of value to the company. And I’m going to expense the doorstop”? I’d soon be opening the door to the unemployment office.

The HR wisdom that had been drilled into me said having an open door was the right thing to do. It was touted as a best practice that would lead to happy, engaged employees. We had been instructed that we should allow employees to vent, because venting is “healthy.”

During my time as an Open-Door Policy devotee, I don’t recall team members ever tattling on themselves. They weren’t coming to me and saying “You know, I am really having trouble aligning my actions and decision making with the strategy of this business. I’d like to become more effective at serving our customers. Can you help me develop my skills and work processes so I can meet company goals, add value to the team, and better contribute to return on investment?”

No one came through my open door to directly ask for coaching on handling sticky issues in a more effective, productive, and efficient way. In fact, they drove their BMWS (bitching, moaning, and whining) through the open door and parked with their engines idling, wasting fuel and polluting the atmosphere. Then they demanded that I withhold the kind of direction and assistance that would help them get where we needed to go.

I realized pretty quickly that the open door was a portal for drama. It catered to ego, fueled feelings of victimhood, and contributed to low morale. Worse, it cost the company a lot of money. We had been hired for the value we could contribute to the important work we did, not for the ego-based, drama-filled stories we could concoct. I knew my time would be better invested in helping people reflect, increase their self-awareness, and look at situations from a higher level of consciousness.”

This week’s selection ‘NO EGO: HOW LEADERS CAN CUT THE COST OF WORKPLACE DRAMA, END ENTITLEMENT, AND DRIVE BIG RESULTS. by Cy Wakeman ‘appears Monday thru Friday and comes to you courtesy of dearreader.com and BurlingtonPublicLibrary.ca Business Online Book Club.

Buy the Book

‘IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK ON MY FACE?…’

‘…MY ADVENTURES IN THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RELATING AND COMMUNICATING’ part five

by Alan Alda
Published by Random House
ISBN: 9780812989144
eBook ISBN: 9780812989168
Copyright (c) 2017 by Mayflower Productions, Inc.

Buy the Book

 

 

“At each session, Paul would open Viola Spolin’s book, Improvisation for the Theater, and lead us through games and exercises that little by little transformed us. The games connected each of us to the other players in a dynamic way. What one player did was immediately sensed and responded to by the other player. And that, in turn, created a spontaneous response in the first player. It was true relating and responsive listening, which, I’ve come to realize, is necessary on the stage and in life as well.

 After six months, I felt that these improv sessions had changed me both as an actor and as a person.

But here I was now in this interview about solar panels, and it wasn’t working. I was talking to a scientist who could give me the knowledge I craved—and I wasn’t listening.

Why? I had spent my whole life on the stage listening to the other actors. Or trying to. But it seemed to be something I constantly had to relearn.

When I started out as an actor, I had the vague awareness that listening had something to do with relating to the other person, although relating was a word with a mysterious ring to it. I heard it often from directors and had seen it repeatedly in books by the Russian acting gurus—Stanislavski, Boleslavski, and one or two other avskis. But I was still hazy about what relating actually entailed. It obviously had to do with making some kind of contact with another person. I drew the natural conclusion that it meant putting myself in the other person’s face. So when I was asked to relate more, I would tilt over in their general direction, in the manner of an errant telephone pole. But this wasn’t actually relating; it was just leaning over. If the director asked for even more relating, I would slump my shoulders and position my nose even closer to the other actor’s. I would be hunched over like the ape in the evolution cartoon, just before he straightens up and walks like a human. It didn’t make directors sigh in admiration.

 Once, a long time ago, Mike Nichols was directing Barbara Harris and me in a rehearsal for the Broadway musical The Apple Tree. He asked us both several times to relate better—although he seemed to be looking more in my direction than in hers. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore. “You kids think relating is the icing on the cake,” he said. “It isn’t. It’s the cake.”

So, what is it? What’s relating? What’s the cake? It took me years to be able to put it roughly into words.

It’s being so aware of the other person that, even if you have your back to them, you’re observing them. It’s letting everything about them affect you; not just their words, but also their tone of voice, their body language, even subtle things like where they’re standing in the room or how they occupy a chair. Relating is letting all that seep into you and have an effect on how you respond to the other person.

RESPONSIVE LISTENING

There’s a body of scientific literature on responsive listening, but I came to understand it in a personal way through my work. In acting, this kind of relating is fundamental. You don’t say your next line simply because it’s in the script. You say it because the other person has behaved in a way that makes you say it. Relating to them allows them to have an effect on you—to change you, in way. And that’s why you respond the way you do.

For an actor, it’s the difference between planning how you’re going to behave, which looks like acting, and finding your performance in the other person’s eyes, which makes you respond to one another—and which looks like life.

But, with all that behind me, here I was supposedly in conversation with the solar panel scientist, and I wasn’t relating to him. Slowly, it was beginning to dawn on me: It’s not just in acting that genuine relating has to take place—real conversation can’t happen if listening is just my waiting for you to finish talking.

LISTENING AND WILLING TO BE CHANGED

I so loved this idea—that on the stage the other actor has to be able to affect you if a scene is to take place—that I came to the conclusion that, even in life, unless I’m responding with my whole self—unless, in fact, I’m willing to be changed by you—I’m probably not really listening. But if I do listen—openly, naively, and innocently—there’s a chance, possibly the only chance, that a true dialogue and real communication will take place between us.

This was the first step in understanding what had to take place before doctors (and dentists) could talk with their patients; before people in business could relate to their customers, parents could advise their children, and couples could work together—with far fewer misunderstandings and hard feelings. At first, though, I was concentrating on helping scientists get their story out in the most human-sounding way.

Once I began to relearn listening as a human interaction, and not just an acting technique, I could go into each interview for Scientific American Frontiers without a set of questions. It wasn’t really an interview anymore. It was a conversation.

After a while, I saw that I was having trouble talking with them whenever I thought I knew more than I really did about their work. I was boxing in the scientists with questions that were based on false assumptions. I took a bold step and stopped reading the scientists’ research papers before I met with them. I would come in armed only with curiosity and my own natural ignorance. I was learning the value of bringing my ignorance to the surface. The scientists could see exactly how much I already understood, and they could start there.”

This excerpt ends on page 11 of the hardcover edition.


FROM THE BOOK JACKET: 

Alan Alda has been on a decades-long journey to discover new ways to help people communicate and relate to one another more effectively. If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? is the warm, witty, and informative chronicle of how Alda found inspiration in everything from cutting-edge science to classic acting methods. His search began when he was host of PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers, where he interviewed thousands of scientists and developed a knack for helping them communicate complex ideas in ways a wide audience could understand–and Alda wondered if those techniques held a clue to better communication for the rest of us.

In his wry and wise voice, Alda reflects on moments of miscommunication in his own life, when an absence of understanding resulted in problems both big and small. He guides us through his discoveries, showing how communication can be improved through learning to relate to the other person: listening with our eyes, looking for clues in another’s face, using the power of a compelling story, avoiding jargon, and reading another person so well that you become “in sync” with them, and know what they are thinking and feeling–especially when you’re talking about the hard stuff.

Drawing on improvisation training, theater, and storytelling techniques from a life of acting, and with insights from recent scientific studies, Alda describes ways we can build empathy, nurture our innate mind-reading abilities, and improve the way we relate and talk with others. Exploring empathy-boosting games and exercises, If I Understood You is a funny, thought-provoking guide that can be used by all of us, in every aspect of our lives–with our friends, lovers, and families, with our doctors, in business settings, and beyond.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Alan Alda has earned international recognition as an actor, writer, and director. He has won seven Emmy Awards, has received three Tony nominations, is an inductee of the Television Hall of Fame, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. Alda played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic television series M*A*S*H, and his many films include Crimes and MisdemeanorsEveryone Says I Love YouManhattan Murder Mystery, and Bridge of Spies. Alda is an active member of the science community, having hosted the award-winning series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Alda is the author of two previous bestselling books, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned and Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself.

This week’s selection ‘IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK ON MY FACE?: MY ADVENTURES IN THE ART AND SCIENCE OF RELATING AND COMMUNICATING’ by Alan Alda ‘appears Monday thru Friday and comes to you courtesy of dearreader.com and BurlingtonPublicLibrary.ca Business Online Book Club.

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