The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
October 12, 2020

Originally published in The Irish Examiner

Day 8 

When you hope, assuming the Force is with you and God is not agin you, that you might have landed Alan Alda for your podcast, you say nothing until you are dead certain sure. Because a star of his magnitude could get an attack of second thoughts. Or technical problems might arise. But this week, the latest edition of my company’s How to podcast went up. It’s useful and free to anyone who wants it, so mentioning it here is not a conflict of interest.

It may come as a surprise to people who associate the actor with his great roles, going back to M*A*S*H, that he’s an acknowledged expert in communication. But he is. He trains doctors and other scientists in how to make the complex simple, and has written a highly entertaining book about it entitled If I understood you, Would I have this Look on my Face?

Alda prioritises listening on stage and on set, believing that, while an actor may say a line because it’s in the script, how the performer says it is dictated — or should be dictated — by listening to the other actor. “That changes the colour of it, changes the communication, so that it has an extra level of meaning.” On the podcast, he told his interviewer, Louise Duffy, that it is possible to improve empathy by concentrating on the other person.

“I’m looking at your face now,” he told her. “You’re thousands of miles away. And I’m trying to see the changing emotions. You just laughed. You’re listening now intently. I’m paying attention to what’s going on inside your head, to the extent that I can make an estimate of it, I’ll never really know. But the effort to find out is important because that puts us in better touch.” You’re not really listening, he maintains unless you’re willing to be changed by the other person. Which, of course, requires a conscious setting-aside, not just of attitude, but of pre-existing knowledge. Alda talks of the moment when he realised that his curiosity about science, combined with his ignorance about it, was his greatest advantage.

“Ignorance is a really good thing to have, as long as you have curiosity along with it. Ignorance without curiosity, not so good…” 

Day 9

All has changed, changed utterly. For buses. A year ago, the powers that be ached, yearned, and lusted to put us on buses. Since we moved to Level 3, they don’t want us on buses at all and they’re not that eager to let us on trains, either. If we go to Level 4 or 5, that will get worse. On the other hand, buses are now serving a metaphorical purpose they didn’t serve that much until now. Where would the tánaiste have been, if he hadn’t had a bus under which — according to the commentators — to throw NPHET? Throwing people under small cars or electric scooters doesn’t convey the requisite level of squashing.

Day 10 

I am horsing medication into the black cat and he’s making like Trump after the steroids.

Day 11

Today, British Airways’ last two Heathrow-based Boeing 747 planes made their final flight. Take off from the West London airport was at breakfast time. As many as 18,000 people watched a live stream of the event. Individual homage to the most beautiful — and, according to its pilots — the most flyable plane ever.

Of course, beautiful planes flew before the jumbo. On my way to the office, I pass a pub named after one of them; the Viscount, which had the most distinctive, slightly complaining tone to its engine noise. Without looking up, you knew the plane overhead was a Viscount, just by the noise of it. It was used on short haul flights. But when I was about seven, my mother took the Lockheed Constellation to La Guardia in New York, and we watched from the balcony of the old banana-shaped Dublin airport main building as the return flight landed, entranced by the tail of it, with the three bits sticking up, and the engines, slowing from a circular blur to individual propellers. The Constellation today looks positively Wright brothers. The curious thing about the two jumbos lifting magisterially into the sky over Heathrow this week, on the other hand, is that each looked as modern as when it first flew, despite being 50 years old. Pick any 50-year-old car and it’s going to look quaintly dated, but not the Jumbo.

With the jumbos, however, we were suddenly cool and outward-looking. Their arrival had such a momentous impact that the doyenne of PR, Mary Finan, hired one of them for a fashion show. The hacks arrived, trying to look unimpressed (that’s an early lesson journalists learn from each other: never look impressed or you’ll be seen as naïve, and even if you are naïve, you don’t want to be outed for it.) So we casually sauntered onto this gigantic plane, took our seats, and off it flew. Once it reached cruising height, models wearing the creations of some designer — perhaps Thomas Wolfangel, a power in haute couture at the time — walked the aisles while we ate a delicious lunch and made the occasional note before the plane landed again in Dublin airport. Way ahead of her time was Mary Finan — that notion of a flight to nowhere has come back into fashion in the last few weeks as a result of the pandemic. You land at the same airport from which you took off, which obviates quarantine. But you don’t get a fashion show.

Day 12 

Thought for the day, stolen and bowdlerised: The shadow of lockdown is longer than lockdown itself.

Day 13

A British charity has found that 53% of people over 65 are constantly irritated by patronising language used by younger people. Language and wider usage: one respondent complained about frequently getting the comment “bless you,” when she makes a remark, “giving the impression it is amazing I still have opinions at my age.” Some 43% of younger people interviewed in the same study dismissed this as “banter”. It’s amazing how tough it is to bear “banter” when you’re on the wrong end of it.

Day 14 

The Botox clinic has opened up again. After this morning’s injections, I could even gloss over bad banter. That’s the odd side effect of the stuff. When you can’t frown, you stop wanting to.