UNC Greensboro students, faculty and staff received a master class in communication from storied actor, writer, director and master communicator Alan Alda Sept. 21. Over a series of talks on campus, Alda shared insights on the importance, challenges and magic of effective communication.
At the heart of each discussion was a simple but profound concept: cultivating empathy is the key to improving every facet of our lives, from communicating complex concepts to maintaining healthy relationships.
At the Dialogue Across Disciplines event with UNCG professors Dr. Nadja Cech and Dr. Omar Ali, Alda discussed techniques he uses to facilitate meaningful communication across multiple disciplines, including improvisation techniques he learned as an actor that made him an active listener. Thinking in the moment and truly observing the person you’re communicating with, Alda said, is key to avoid what he calls “a pair of dueling monologues.”
“It occurred to me about 10 or 15 years ago, and it’s a little radical. You might not like the idea,” said Alda. “But I’ve come to think that real listening doesn’t take place until I’m willing to be changed by the other person.”
Later, Alda met theatre students and faculty in the Sprinkle Theatre for a Question and Answer Colloquium with theatre professor Michael Flannery. The theme of empathy continued to resonate, especially in regard to making a performance seem authentic and spontaneous.
“How am I going to get out there and respond in the moment to this other person? You can pretend to, but it looks like pretending,” Alda said. “But if you get into the other person’s head and you let them into yours and you’re open and free with one another, then I think you’re exercising one of the most important techniques.”
Alda’s blend of witty wisdom and sincerity reached many students, who, between bouts of laughter, asked penetrating questions about the actor’s craft and the power of empathy.
“All his ideas are things I can use in my career,” said BFA student Meagan Crankshaw. “You don’t have to be an actor. His entire theory of how communication brings everything together really clicks, and it’s great hearing it come from some such an experienced person.”
That evening, Alda continued the conversation in the UNCG Auditorium (as part of the 2018-19 University Concert and Lecture Series), further explaining what makes the out-of-the-box techniques he developed after his years as the host of “Scientific American Frontiers” so effective.
See more highlights from Alda’s visit in the video below.
Story by Victor Ayala, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane and Jiyoung Park, University Communications, and Mike Micciche
Videography by Grant Evan Gilliard, University Communications