Five Communication Tips from Fonzie

May 4, 2021

During a recent visit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I sought out “The Bronze Fonz,” which is a kitschy statue found along the city’s downtown river walk that commemorates Arthur Fonzarelli (a.k.a. “The Fonz” or “Fonzie”). Fonzie was a popular character played with gusto by Henry Winkler on Happy Days, a television sitcom that ran in primetime from 1974 to 1984, and then lived-on for many years in syndication. Milwaukee was “home” to the show’s storyline and its cast of characters.

As a leather jacket wearing, motorcycle riding, vanity driven tough guy, Fonzie was pretty predictable, but he sometimes showed a softer side. Yet, even with his cool-guy schtick and mannerisms, there are some communications-related tips we can learn from him.

Tip 1: Appearances matter

Fonzie loved to preen in front of the mirror with his comb – he had to look cool. But Fonzie also knew it was important to act and sound cool because people were paying attention. He had a reputation, so any slip-up meant his credibility (and cool factor) could take a hit.

Lesson: What you say is definitely important, but how you deliver it (tone, approach, timing, etc.) can be just as critical. Think about the full package when communicating with others.      

Tip 2: Be true to yourself

Fonzie was unapologetic about who he was, and rarely, if ever, strayed from his coolness. He had an image and status to protect, so you knew where he stood – on the side of cool – and he was comfortable with that.

Lesson: Authenticity matters. Don’t try to be (or sound) like someone you aren’t. Communicate in a way that is comfortable and authentic to you. Be yourself but also understand it will not resonate with everyone. Fonzie had detractors and so will you.      

Tip 3: Being tough takes work

The Fonz was a tough guy who never backed down from a challenge – not even when it was jumping garbage cans on his motorcycle or a shark on water skis – and he let people know it. No matter the circumstances, Fonzie was up to the task. 

Lesson: When times get tough or when faced with a challenge, you need to communicate from a position of strength and consistently demonstrate leadership. You don’t want to turn into Potsie or Ralph when “jumping the shark” presents itself.  

Tip 4: Loyalty and respect matter

Fonzie was cool and viewed others – like Richie, Potise and Ralph – as “nerds” but he also demonstrated loyalty towards his friends and respected them for who they were in his own special way. Simply put, he found a way to coexist despite their differences.

Lesson: Showing loyalty and respect to your colleagues and customers is important. Like Fonzie, you need to find ways to communicate in ways that are authentic and meaningful, and that can resonate with others.    

Tip 5: There are different ways to communicate

Fonzie often had a pretty limited vocabulary – think “Whoa” or “Aaaayyyyy” or “Correctamundo” – but people understood him. In fact, Fonzie didn’t even have to speak to get his point across. Just snapping his fingers or banging on the jukebox could make things happen.

Lesson: Long messages don’t equate to good ones. There is nothing wrong with striving for clarity and brevity and getting to the point. Quality over quantity should be your goal when communicating, but actions can definitely speak louder than words. Keep it simple, clear and to the point.

Fonzie was definitely an over-the-top caricature of a 1950’s tough guy. However, he resonated with a lot of people because he knew who he was and told it like he saw it . . .plain and simple. In today’s world, you don’t need to be Fonzie to be successful, but don’t you think channeling some of his confidence and communication practices might be good when trying to connect with others. As Fonzie would say, “Exactamundo!”    

By Mark Yontz: 

With more than 25 years of professional experience, Mark provides clients with a variety of communications support – from conducting strategy sessions and communication audits to developing plans and implementing tactics. He is also a media relations expert, having written or pitched more than 600 articles for a variety of local, statewide, regional and national publications including Family Living, The Spokesman, Teach & Travel, Farm Industry News, Michigan Living and many more.