When used in a positive way, humor MAY be one of the best communications tools around. It not only engages listeners, it builds trust; helps lighten difficult news; improves receptivity to change; reduces anxiety; helps everyone stay grounded in the moment and attentive to the conversation; and because it stimulates blood flow to the brain, it helps everyone think more clearly. Because truth be told, most of us don’t think that well with our blood in our hindquarters.
“Crucial conversations” are those in which the stakes are higher than the everyday business communications we’re all engaged in. To be able to communicate well, lighten up, and listen to what is really being said, here are some important steps:
1. Understand we all bring our own baggage to every conversation. We all have assumptions about the people we’re talking with and the subject being discussed. We may have previous experiences with similar conversations that color what is being said (if you’ve ever started to hear “Yada, yada,” mid-sentence, you know what I mean), and we all DO have our own agenda (even if it is just to get to the bathroom before it’s too late).
2. Be open and truthful about your own baggage and agenda. Using a positive sense of humor to be up front about how you feel can help everyone be more comfortable and participate in the conversation with honesty and integrity.
3. Learn to truly listen to what is being said. You can’t use humor effectively without understanding what tickles someone else’s funny bone. The only way to do that is to let the other person lead you to what’s funny in his or her eyes.
4. Honor each others’ differences and celebrate similarities by finding connection points through laughter. When you both laugh at something at the same time, you’re much more likely to want to work together and help each other.
5. Recognize that the traditional “frustration point” is where humor is the most likely to happen. Writing a joke requires understanding “pattern” and “misdirection.” In real life terms, misdirection is the place where things suddenly hit the fan. At that point, rather than getting frustrated or anxious, an effective communicator MAY choose to turn to humor.
6. Use positive humor only. Competitive, demeaning, exclusionary humor makes everything worse in crucial conversations. Avoid problems by focusing the laughs on yourself (true stories that make a point with humor work great), dropping the sarcasm, avoiding hot button topics, keeping your topics and language clean, and poking fun at situations, not people.
7. Your most important overall goal in using humor in crucial conversations is to make the “audience” like you enough to listen to you. Do this by:
- Having a conversational and friendly tone, not an authoritative tone;
- Not putting words in anyone’s mouth;
- Engaging everyone in the conversation;
- Laughing whenever anyone tries to be funny in a non-harmful way; and
- Being aware of clues that your message is not being heard.
Copyright Leigh Anne Jasheway 2009