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How Humor Can Defuse an Argument

Research shows that when people in a conflict situation laugh and find the humor in a situation, they are likely to shift from convergent thinking (believing there is only one possible solution) to divergent thinking (seeing other possibilities and ideas that might solve the conflict). Here are a few tips on how to use humor in a conflict situation to defuse the tension:

  •     Make sure you are practicing good listening skills. Show that you understand where the other person is coming from before trying to inject any humor.
  •     Stay away from sarcastic humor or humor targeted at the other person, which will of course only make things worse! You want to use humor gently while still demonstrating you are taking the issue and their concerns seriously.bigstock-Frustrated-Manager-Wearing-Gla-1918226(1)
  •     Assess whether the situation warrants any use of humor. Given the context, nature of the conflict, and nature of your relationship with the person, you might choose to avoid any use of humor or, at the other extreme, you might don a “bonehead” hat or pair of Groucho Marx glasses to lower the temperature.
  •     Look for openings to inject some self-deprecating humor, such as, “You know, I’ll admit I might be wrong about this, according to my teenage children that’s pretty much my standard operating mode.”
  •     Look for ways to humorously reframe the problem, to remind both you and the other person that it could be worse. “I think we should remember that it could be a lot worse. We could be having this debate on the Titanic” or “You know, some people would love to have this be there most important issue to fight over. In fact, we could probably sell this fight on Craigslist” or “Just think – we’re fighting over who gets this parking stall while a gazillion people around the globe would just like to have a car to be able to park in the first place!”
  •     Look for ways to inject some humor around how you might solve the conflict: “I wonder if we should bring Judge Judy in on this one?” or “Why don’t we just thumb wrestle over this – best out of 3 matches wins?”
  •     Remind the other party that it’s important for both of you to keep your sense of humor and that you just want the best possible outcome, stay focused on the issue so you don’t make it personal, and be open to the possibility that the other person might be right. Use humor to stay humble and human.

What about you? What have you done successfully to defuse an argument using a little humor?

Michael Kerr. Humor at Work. Michael Kerr is a Hall of Fame international business speaker and the author of six books including, The Humor Advantage – Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.

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