Mr. Rogers Goes to Washington

This video is a 6 minute master class on effective communication. There are so many lessons in this video that are immediately transferable to the workplace (and life) that I had to share – which is par for the course with Mr. Rogers.

First, some context:

From the YouTube description: On May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers, host of the (then) recently nationally syndicated children’s television series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce Subcommittee on Communications to defend $20 million in federal funding proposed for the newly formed non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was at risk of being reduced to $10 million.

Let’s freeze our opinions about public broadcasting for a moment as we break down this conversation.

Mr. Rogers understands his audience. He respects the Senator’s intelligence to take the necessary leaps in logic to arrive at desired conclusions. Instead of using fear tactics, such as graphically describing what a nightmare the world will be without his show, Rogers opts to talk about how his show helps children develop emotional intelligence at a young age and grow into healthy adults. Mr. Rogers leaves it up to the Senator to conclude how emotionally healthy children benefit society at large.

Being persuasive is a key skill in accounts receivable management. It is far more effective for a consumer to realize the positive benefits of making an arrangement or resolving an account than bemoaning the negative impact. On your next call ask yourself – “How would Mr. Rogers explain it?”

Mr. Rogers uses accessible language. “An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” – Charles Bukowski

Mr. Rogers is an artist. He speaks plainly but with great conviction. There is never any doubt if he is an expert on this subject and he communicates complex ideas without using acronyms, jargon, or an overwhelming amount of statistics. Instead, he expertly selects the most effective supporting figures (such as his lack of budget) and uses them to reinforce his opinion.

A big part of being a communication artist is the ability to help someone understand and navigate through a stressful, complicated situation. Testifying before the Senate Subcommittee qualifies as stressful, complicated situation in my book. And Mr. Rogers handles it like a champ. He addresses the concerns of Senator Pastore while using language that is completely accessible to even the children who watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Amazing.

I like to think that if Mr. Rogers can secure 10 million dollars for public broadcasting while using language a little league team could follow, then there is no subject or problem that is too complicated for any of us to break down and make accessible to a listener.

Senator John Pastore is a skilled listener. Let’s not forget, it takes two people to have a conversation. Senator Pastore comes off as a bit cranky, but I want to recognize that the Senator gave several signals that he was involved and actively listening. He asked great questions and repeated some of Rogers’ own words. He gave nonverbal cues, and made several acknowledging comments while Mr. Rogers spoke.

More importantly, Senator Pastore kept an open mind when listening to someone he may not have agreed with at first. Far too often these days, people have made up their minds on a topic or outcome before a conversation has even started. A communication artist understands that conversations are two-way streets, and that if we fail to send the right signals or respond to the signals of the other people we run the risk of gridlock.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the video. How are you a communication artist? How do you avoid gridlock? Email Jesse Williams at jwilliams@columbiacsi.com.