Communication involves so much more than just the words.
Breaking the Ice
Humour is perhaps the saving grace of civilization. I think we’ve all had the experience of being in a tense situation where a joke has suddenly changed the mood, or having someone in our lives we disliked intensely – until they made us laugh and we suddenly saw them as human beings instead of simply obstacles or enemies. Humour is one of the most powerful tools we have in our arsenal of communication, because it is the easiest and most effective way to build a rapport with someone.
Three Steps to Rapport
Humour has a variety of functions when we’re seeking to make a connection with someone. We use jokes and humorous remarks in three basic ways in order to establish rapport:
1. To Demonstrate Understanding. We often use humour in order to show someone or a group of people that we are aware of the situation. When you’re put in charge of unhappy employees, for example, a joke can often show them that you know how bad the circumstances are, but that you’re all in the same boat. Or a joke can sometimes demonstrate that you understand someone else’s situation in a non-threatening manner.
2. To Humanize. Often when we don’t know each other, being on opposite sides of an issue or situation makes us view the other person as some sort of horrible robot. This is both an instinctive animal reaction to perceived threats and a defence mechanism that allows us to be hard-hearted to our enemies. A joke can force people to see you as a person, someone who deserves empathy. Politicians use humour in this manner all the time!
3. To Defuse Tension. Even if you don’t have animosity towards the other person, often in a tense situation tempers flare. Humour can take a tense situation and turn it around instantly. If you’ve ever found yourself about to get into a fistfight, you know that atmosphere of dread and tension – and perhaps you’ve also experienced that sudden release when someone makes a funny remark about what’s happening – and suddenly a fight seems impossible where just moments before it seemed inevitable.
Humour is a powerful tool, but it’s like a tool with no instruction manual. Sometimes the hardest part is not in knowing when to use humour, but how in the world to be funny!