Fred Rogers had a lot to say about the human condition and how to deal with disasters ("Look for the helpers"). But one of the most important and useful lessons for these times of pandemic isn't something he said. It is something he did on every show--make deep, real connections with people who weren't in his physical presence.
Mister Rogers didn't have any fancy, interactive technology. No email, no videoconferencing, no texting, no social media. All Rogers had at his disposal was vanilla broadcast television--a technology already decades old when his show first started.
Nevertheless, it can be argued that Fred Rogers created an emotional bond with his audience that was stronger and more meaningful than many of the bonds forged in a face-to-face environment--as evidenced by two award-winning movies, released years after his death.
How did he do it? Well, you won't be surprised that most of his technique was common sense:
- Treat people with respect.
- Believe in human goodness.
- Have a clear and relevant message.
- Use simple words and sentences.
- Speak, and then pause to listen.
Regardless of whether they're face-to-face or online, the world's best public speakers, the worlds' best salespeople, the world's best communicators, and the world's best leaders exhibit those five simple elements of common sense. Technology doesn't change the fundamentals. If anything, technology makes the fundamentals even more important.
My personal experience is that it's not just possible but easy to build and maintain strong, meaningful business relationships with people you've never met in person. Indeed, my most important business arrangements have all been negotiated remotely and have, if anything, been strengthened by the current crisis.
By the way, the idea for this column came from my wife, a music teacher who has been teaching grades K-4 remotely for the past six weeks. She originally felt discouraged at moving online because face-to-face interaction is a big part of the educational experience. Then she decided to change her attitude. An hour ago, at the dinner table, she told me: "I'm going to be the Fred Rogers of music teachers." My response: "That, my dear, is a great idea for a column."
So, even though it may seem weird to try to make connections when you're stuck at home, Fred Rogers showed that it's not where you're located that counts. It's where you're coming from.