The host of PBS’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood won over audiences with a gentle demeanor and heartfelt compassion unlike any other television personality. Although Tom Hanks never met Rogers, who died in 2003, the actor’s portrayal of the beloved educator in the recent film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood earned him his sixth Oscar nomination.
Hanks recently sat down with The Today Show‘s Savannah Guthrie to share what he learned from Rogers from researching the role and speaking with those who knew the man best. Here are three lessons the famed actor said he picked up during the process.
1. Connecting with people isn’t about selling them something.
Hanks noted that even though Rogers was an ordained minister, he never used the word “God” on his show or tried to sell his viewers anything resembling a product. Instead, he forged deep connections with his viewers by expressing empathy.
“He said this other thing, which is almost diabolical in its simplicity: It’s OK to be sad sometimes,” Hanks said. “That sounds like some sort of nefarious double-speak to get us to pay $1,700 for a weekend seminar, but that’s not what he did. That’s not what he was about.”
2. Everyone needs to express vulnerability.
Leaders are often expected to exhibit qualities like confidence, toughness, and determination, but Rogers often shared his own feelings of vulnerability on his show.
“We all want to be met with compassion, but in order to do that, you actually need to lead with some brand of vulnerability, which is: I feel that bad too,” Hanks said. One caveat, he added, is that expressing vulnerability is never easy. “No one wants to lead with vulnerability.”
3. Removing competition makes communication easier.
When two people have a conflict, there’s often an assumption that one person is right and the other is wrong. Eliminating this notion of there being a zero-sum game, Hanks learned, can lead to more effective communication and ultimately, resolution.
“When we get to that point of, you’re not going to lose, and I’m not going to lose, because we’re both right, the words come out almost magically,” Hanks said. “It ends up being the great harmonizer, because we have a right to feel bad.”