Use Humor Wisely by Avoiding This Common Mistake

May 1, 2018

 

 

It feels good to make people laugh.

 

We all enjoy a speaker who helps us to see the lighter side of life.  Witty speakers are charming; using humor shows that they take their subject seriously – but they don’t take themselves too seriously.

 

If you can upend expectations with a witty remark or observation, you’ve introduced an element of surprise that grabs your audience’s attention.

 

Yes, humor can have a wonderful impact on your audience. 

 

Jerry Seinfeld is famous for his ability to point out the irony of a situation, and for years he helped us laugh at ourselves.

 

"I saw a thing, actually a study that said:  speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. This means, to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy."

– Jerry Seinfeld

 

Caution: Although most of us would say we enjoy humor, it’s important to use it wisely.

 

A client of mine, let’s call him Gary, has a big job. He is a Deputy Fire Chief for the FDNY and the decisions he makes have life or death consequences. He often uses humor to diffuse the tension that comes with high stakes work.

 

After all, humor is a great way to relate to others and to lighten things up.

 

But recently, Gary got some tough feedback. He was told that his humor often gets in the way of honest communication about valid challenges and concerns.  His colleagues and direct reports said that they avoid showing vulnerability in fear of being Gary’s next punch line.

 

Gary’s humor was shutting down communication.

 

It makes sense.  If you approach your boss with a heartfelt concern, and he responds with a joke or tells a funny anecdote, that conversation will come to a screeching halt.

 

Responding with humor in the face of vulnerability often sends the wrong message.  Diffusing tension may make us feel better, but the person on the receiving end feels worse.

 

So be mindful when using humor to relate to people one-on-one. 

 

During Q & A that follows a presentation, or in the midst of daily interaction, beware that humor can backfire. 

 

When on stage, using humor wisely is almost always a good idea.  It's a great way to grab attention and connect with the audience.

 

Best,

Cheryl

 

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