Most recognized for his role in the TV series “M*A*S*H,” Alan Alda has come a long way since his days as Hawkeye Pierce. The actor has since evolved into a scriptwriter, author, science show host, and founder of organizations for improving communication skills.
Alda gave his deep definition of improv, during a Harvard Business Review interview. He described it as an engaging way to get to know another person, and it’s not a form of entertainment.
“In its purest form, improv puts you in touch with other people in a way that is intimate, informal, and fully engaged, so you can be aware of what they’re feeling and thinking,” he said. “It’s a shame because without it, we won’t make much headway working together.”
Similar to improvising, Alda gets a new cast “to gel” by having them be more aware of each other. He also believes active listening skills can be extremely useful to understand another person. The “M*A*S*H” star further explained his methods to promote team unity.
“You get clues from their voices, their body language, the words they use,” he said in Harvard Business Review. “And then you let them know you understand, not by saying, ‘You seem to be nervous,’ but in a way that puts them at ease. Sometimes it’s joking. Sometimes it’s just being listened to.”
Then, the next thing in his process would be to motivate the cast into trying his insightful methods. He’s also become a natural leader in workshops and as a director. During the interview, Alda shared his idea with Harvard on how he gets his teams to collaborate.
“By expressing my own passion about it and watching to see what lights them up and if we’re in sync,” he said. “The sincerity of that engagement is really important.”
Actor Alan Alda’s Book Takes a Chapter From ‘M*A*S*H’
In addition to his many hats, “M*A*S*H” actor and director Alan Alda is a published author. His latest non-fiction book titled, “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?” features an exercise used in the TV series “M*A*S*H”.
Alda talked about an experience in which he “discovered it by accident,” while filming “M*A*S*H”. Since then, he has used the same exercise on other people. He gave Harvard Business Review a detailed description of what it exactly entails.
“But during ‘M*A*S*H’ we would sit around in a circle and kid each other and go over our lines together,” he said in the interview. “The sense of group was fortified all day long. The laughing was important because when you laugh you’re vulnerable, opened up, allowing the other person to affect you.”
Alda then spoke on how he created a routine out of the special event. The cast members he worked with would learn to sit and laugh together before going on stage. It resulted in the performance being an actual “extension of that playful experience,” he said.