Pat Sajak Just Gave Us a Crash Course In Empathy
Earlier this week, Wheel of Fortune had viewers frustrated and screaming at their TVs in what one viewer called the "dumbest two minutes in Wheel of Fortune history."
Just in case you haven’t heard, here’s what happened.
In a now-viral clip (shown below), the Wheel of Fortune contestants attempted to solve a puzzle with just four blanks left on the board showing: "ANOTHER FEATHER _N YO_R _A_."
To everyone watching at home or online, the phrase was obvious: "Another feather in your cap." But it wasn't so obvious to the contestants.
One of the contestants originally guessed “hat.” When that didn’t work, they all started throwing out different guesses to see what would stick. “Lap?” “Map?”
In total, it took all three contestants eight turns and 10 attempts to solve the five-word puzzle - just over two minutes.
Of course, an experience like that was bound to go viral. The clip was shared and viewed over 4 million times on Twitter. While some comments were light-hearted, some of them turned pretty mean.
And over the following days, media outlets all over the U.S. just piled on even more.
And everyone felt justified in expressing their disbelief and frustration at these contestants because the answer was so obvious to us from our perspective. I mean - if we were there in their shoes, we would have easily solved the puzzle, right?
Except we weren’t there in their shoes. We weren’t there in the studio. We weren’t experiencing what those contestants experienced. And Pat Sajak came in to defend the contestants and set us straight.
On Wednesday morning, Pat took to Twitter to ask that people show the contestants some compassion.
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.— Pat Sajak (@PatOnWheel) March 2, 2022
But not only that, he went on to explain what it’s truly like to be a contestant on the show, something that viewers don’t know or experience from their perspective:
"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."
Sajak’s message for the media and online critics boiled down to the fact that “playing the game” from the comfort of our own home is not the same experience as playing the game live in the studio setting.
In 271 words and nine tweets, Pat Sajak gave us a crash course in empathy.
Now maybe there’s a difference in how we judge contestants on a game show and how we interact with the real people in our lives. Or is there?
Whether it’s our customers, our peers, our team members or even our friends and family, we're here to serve others through the experience we deliver to them. And if we want to truly serve others, we can only do that when we understand their perspective - when we serve with empathy.
In his recent book, Tell Me More About That: Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time, Rob Volpe shares that the first step towards empathizing with others is to “dismantle judgment.”
Last week I was grateful to have Rob on the SIMPLE brand podcast where we got discuss all his lessons on empathy. In the discussion, Rob shared a simple 5-step framework that he’s developed to help you build your empathy muscle. It’s descriptively named - 5 Steps to Empathy.
We all come into situations with our own judgments and assumptions. And they're usually made from our own knowledge, experience and perspective.
But holding strong judgments is a barrier to empathy. It's like a brick wall that we can't see past and can't climb over. In order to truly understand someone else, we have to dismantle our judgment to see and hear people based on their perspectives, not our own.
True, effective empathy can make or break your ability to deliver an outstanding experience to others. It's when you “walk a mile in others’ shoes” and start to truly understand what it's like to be them and what it's like to be on the receiving end of whatever you are delivering to them.
Most everything we do, most everything we think, most everything we assume depends on our own point of view. But if we want to ensure that we're serving others with true empathy, sometimes we need to shift the way we look at our people and their goals, challenges and expectations. When we try to see things from their perspective - and not just our own - we're in a much better position to deliver an outstanding experience to them.
Focusing on others' perspectives can actually give you the insight and wisdom to understand people better. That doesn't mean you have to believe everything they believe. That doesn't mean you have to feel everything they feel. It simply means you understand how they see the world, and understand how you can serve them based on how they see the world, not based on how you see it.
Too often we assume what it's like to be our people and we assume what they want and need from us. When we assume that, we make a misunderstanding. And that misunderstanding is not their fault - it’s ours.
Do you know what people want the most? They want to feel valued.
When your people believe you understand them, they feel valued. When they feel valued, they trust you. When they trust you, they’ll be loyal to you. When they’re loyal to you, your relationship with them will flourish.
You've got lots of opportunities to serve your people every day. And you can only truly serve them once you understand them and their perspective.
Want to learn more about how to instill empathy into your customer experience alongside my other five key SIMPLE behaviors? Download a free copy of my SIMPLE Playbook here. It’ll help you immediately turn your customer experience around and create an “Amazon experience” without having an “Amazon budget.”
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