"Have a little heart."
That's what Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak is requesting of the online community, after a viral moment in which it took three contestants several attempts to solve a puzzle that left viewers at home scratching their heads.
The correct answer to the puzzle was: "Another feather in your cap." Yet, despite only a few letters missing, contestants took turn after turn delivering wrong guesses, with takes that included: "Another feather in your hat," "Another feather in your lap," and "Another feather in your map." (You can watch the events unfold here.)
But after countless people took to Twitter to eviscerate the contestants, Sajak did the opposite: He defended them.
"It always pains me when nice people come on our show to play a game and win some money and maybe fulfill a lifelong dream, and are then subject to online ridicule when they make a mistake or something goes awry," wrote Sajak. "Last night's 'Feather in your cap' puzzle was a case in point. Sitting at home, it seems incredible that they couldn't solve it, but I knew in real time what was happening."
Sajak then follows up, delivering a nine-tweet master class in empathy and emotional intelligence. Let's break down his tweets, and see how the lessons can help entrepreneurs and business owners--and everyone else, too.
Overcoming the perspective gap
Viewers at home wonder how something like this could happen. How could seemingly intelligent contestants miss what's plainly before their eyes?
First, here's Sajak's analysis in its entirety:
"The first attempted solve was 'Feather in your hat' which, by the way, is how a lot of people say it. So all three players thought it was a good solve, and were stunned when I said it was wrong."
"Now imagine you're on national TV, and you're suddenly thrown a curve and you begin getting worried about looking stupid, and if the feather isn't in your hat, where the heck can it be? You start flailing away looking for alternatives rather than synonyms for 'hat.' And, of course, when it's solved, you want to crawl in a hole. I've been praised online for 'keeping it together' and not making fun of the players."
"Truth is, all I want to do is help to get them through it and convince them that those things happen even to very bright people. But mocking them online and calling them names? These are good people in a bad situation under a kind of stress that you can't begin to appreciate from the comfort of your couch. Good-natured laughter is one thing. Heck, they laughed at themselves. But, hey, cut them some slack. Unless you're there, you have no idea how different it is in the studio."
"I have fun with players and I tease them occasionally, but when things go wrong, I feel for them, and I try to salve the wounds on camera and off. So, yeah, it was an oddly entertaining puzzle and it's okay to laugh at the situation. But have a little heart."
"After all, you may be there one day. And no one wants to be trending on Twitter."
Interestingly, what Sajak is speaking about is a recognized principle of psychology, something known as the perspective gap.
The perspective gap (also known as an empathy gap) is a common occurrence in which one dramatically underestimates the effects of a psychologically or physically intense situation. As Sajak explains, it's easy to watch from your couch and think you'd never make the same mistake.
But what if you've never heard that phrase? What if the bright lights got to you and your nerves? What if ...
Sajak's approach is emotionally intelligent and empathetic. He encourages viewers to put themselves in the contestants' shoes. Yes, be willing to laugh at the moment, but remember that you could be reacting in a very similar way, when faced with an alternate (yet similar) scenario.
How does this lesson help entrepreneurs and business owners?
It's very likely that someone--a colleague, a customer, or even a family member--is facing a difficult time. When you can relate to the situation, it's easy to empathize.
But what if you can't?
What if your colleague is facing a problem that seems so simple to you? What if your customer appears to just not get it? Or, what if you feel a family member expects so much of you, without understanding the challenges you're facing?
The tendency, at times, will be to dismiss these people. To think, "I can't believe someone would think like this." And if you think like that, it will show in the way you look, the way you speak, the tone you take--and all of this will actually hurt your relationship with the other person.
But what if, instead, you showed a little heart?
What if, instead of dismissing the person and their complaint, you took time to engage them in conversation, to learn more about how they're feeling?
When you do this, you may even help them to change their own viewpoint. To see the bigger picture they've been missing. To laugh at themselves, and find a way to move forward.
Now, instead of weakening your relationship, you strengthen it.
So, the next time you see someone in a desperate situation and you simply can't relate, resist the urge to judge. Instead, remember Pat Sajak's words of wisdom, and show a little heart.
You might be surprised at what happens next.