15 Ways to Accomplish More With the Right Kind of Humor
Conan O’Brian quipped that “Some people are saying that the reason Michael Phelps wasn’t doing so well for awhile was because he let himself get too out of shape. I just have to say that I have been watching the Olympics, and if that guy is out of shape, I have been dead for five years.”
Self-deprecating humor can pull others closer, even in unexpected kinds of work. Whether you are seeking support, selling, forging a partnership or even considering marriage, it can be a key tool to knowing if and how to proceed. The right kind of humor is the best lubricant to smooth your way in life, pulling in opportunities and friendship, as these 15 reasons and ways illustrate:
1. Discover how open they are to others’ ideas
After watching “dog whisperer” Cesar Milan, Paula Poundstone learned that, “when a dog is sniffing you, he’s gathering information.” She concluded that, “My dog is collecting an extensive dossier on me.”
How we evoke and respond to humor is one of the strongest indicators of how flexible, open and fun we will be with others. Using humor, you see how they view themselves and their world. That’s helpful information if you are thinking of collaborating with someone – or even considering whether to get to know them better. “A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your step as you walk the tightrope of life,” wrote William Ward.
2. Pull people closer
Evoke unifying humor. When your humor highlights what we have in common, you and I feel more like “us.” Joking with co-workers builds bonds. Look out for examples of unifying humor that spur an “us” feeling and see how you might craft some for your situation. Here are three I’ve discovered:
• After the mad cow scare, a subscriber to my newsletter, mailed me this bumper sticker: “Montana – At least our cows are sane!”
• Commenting on the human condition: “God pulled an all-nighter on the sixth day.”
• Emblazoned on the T-shirt of a rotund man coming out of a San Diego beach shop: “The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.”
3. When you are the honcho, hero or current center of attention, let them feel more equal
Self-deprecating humor is disarming, and makes others feel more included, as hockey player, Chris Pronger managed to do when talking with reporters. That’s especially helpful when others may have reason to feel in awe of you or ignored.
Groucho Marx dry groused, “People say I don’t take criticism very well, but I say what the hell do they know?”
Steve Martin observed, when sharing this photo, “When comedians get together, there are thoughtful moments, too.
4. Don’t use cutting or belittling humor
Most of us rationalize our use of cutting humor as harmless fun. After all, it is usually a matter of perspective, that is who is getting skewered. As Mel Brooks concluded, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down an open manhole cover and die.” Unifying humor is healing and enables us to see the larger picture where hope is possible. Charlie Chaplin once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up but a comedy in long shot.”
5. Avoid humorless people
Frank Tyger suggests that, “The ultimate test of whether you posses a sense of humor is your reaction when someone tells you you don’t.” How do we get that way? “By starving emotions we become humorless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged; they poison it,’” warns neurologist, Joseph Collins.
Without humor it is hard to step back to see a situation in a brighter way or come to terms with it – or to hope. “There is a sorrow in the seriousness of humorous people. They do not easily find among ideas or purposes a place of rest. The courage in their eyes is wistful. If they don’t even recognize sarcasm, they may lack higher cognitive skills.
6. Get their attention
“When they’re laughing, they’re listening,” said Adrian Gostick, co-author of The Levity Effect. “A tourist is backpacking through the highlands of Scotland and he stops at a pub…” says Toy Story filmmaker Andrew Stanton in a thick Scottish accent, thus beginning his TED talk on storytelling without any preamble – but with a story, one that ends in a laughter-evoking evoking punch line.
Not only did he grab the audience’s attention from the first sentence, he got them to care about what he would say next.
He’d also crafted that funny story to foreshadow all the clues to storytelling that he subsequently describes in his talk. See how he alternates humor and other emotions, from awe to surprise, throughout the talk, to keep us involved.
7. Help them become more relaxed, present and connected in situation
Like scent, humor has extremely offensive or captivating effects on us, depending on the kind. Injecting unifying humor into a situation is probably the swiftest way to get us in relaxation mode and begin to bond. We become less fearful or tense. That’s when we are most likely to like each other, bring out our better sides – and be productive and creative together.
“If you can get someone to laugh with you, they will be more willing to identify with you, listen to you. It parts the waters,” said Robert Orben. As we lighten up we become more playful – which can make us productive if we need to be – and happier.
8. Choose the character role you really want to play
Using humor, you can show others how you choose to see a situation, as weak or resilient, for example. Instead of giving in to depression, a Multiple Sclerosis patient remarked, “One good thing about MS is I don’t have to worry about stirring my coffee anymore.”
With his hilarious monologue, The The Impotence of Proofreading. Taylor Mali proved that English teachers can be wildly entertaining and even turn into traveling poets: “Proofreading your peppers is a matter of the the utmost impotence…I need to be challenged, challenged menstrually……I need a college that could give me intellectual simulation. Not just anal community colleague. I really felt that I could get into an ivory legal college…. Gone would be my dream of going to Harvard, Jail or Prison …There is no prostitute for careful proofreading.”
Humor makes most any topic more interesting.
9. Lift the mood
When characterizing his political commentary, Stephen Colbert noted “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.” “Humor does not rescue us from unhappiness,” wrote Mason Cooley (or from arguments I would add), “but enables us to move back from it a little.”
Humor also makes us think and that interrupts negative emotions writes Eric Barker, summarizing a study.
It can even raise our tolerance to pain. When researchers showed people funny videos before asking them to keep a hand in very cold water for as long as they could, participants could keep their hands in longer than those who watched a neutral or negative video.
10. Make your potentially controversial idea or view easier to hear and discuss
Like “a rubber sword, humor allows you to make a point without drawing blood,” wrote Mary Hirsch. Yet that only works when the human is self-deprecating or otherwise unifying.
11. Diffuse Tension
Wernher von Braun recalled that as astronaut John Glenn was strapped into his seat before take-off, he dryly remarked, “Oh my god, I’m sitting on a pile of stuff created by the lowest cost bidder.”
Every relationship has bumpy moments. Humor can be quicker than praise to smooth them out. Humorless people make the bumps bigger. “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher, “jolted by every pebble in the road.”
12. Spark romance
Women say they want someone who makes them laugh. Men want someone whom they can make laugh.
13. Spur higher performance
Humor is often the seed for fun. If people are having fun together, they’re going to work harder. They are more likely to get through the rough spots of disagreement and go out of their way to support each other. Some studies show men are viewed as funnier at work yet, Humorworks’ John Morreall points out that, “traditional men’s humor tends to mock and humiliate and uses jokes with punchlines, while traditional women’s humor expresses support and solidarity and uses true stories without a kicker.”
Yet Bloomberg’s Vanessa Wong points out that “Self-deprecating humor—traditionally women’s humor—is actually best at work, he says, as it’s not threatening, and no one actually thinks less of a person for it.”
And, “typically, women are not connected to their funny selves” according to Marcia Reynolds, whose improvisational acting teacher told her, “Don’t try to be funny. Don’t look for funny stories.” Just tell your true stories. “My funny self would show up.” Reynolds summarized comedian Steve Allen’s advice, that, “a regular diet of watching, reading, listening to and hanging out with funny people, you will inevitably become a bit funnier. Eventually, you become a magnet for funniness. ‘Humor will find you,’ Allen said. ‘It’s not that funnier things will happen to you than others. You’ll develop a sensitivity to the environment and circumstances that enables you to see the humor that a more serious person will miss.’”
14. Get promoted faster
Executives with a sense of humor climb the corporate ladder more quickly and earn more money than their counterparts,” reported The Harvard Business Review.
15. Be a great audience
Since it is contagious your laughter helps spread the humor. Don’t hold back laughter because your laughter Unfortunately I don’t know how to be funny nor have a humor-evoking face like Ricky Gervais – yet I am one of the first to laugh when others are. Us “first responders” to friction can start what researchers call a laughter cascade to spur the emotional contagion that gets others laughing. Once I broke out laughing in a packed movie theatre only to hear someone yell out, to my mortification, “Kare – glad to hearing you’re enjoying it.”
What actually makes us laugh? Scientists think they have found three clues: superiority, incongruity and the pattern of three.
Kare Anderson, Contributor
I cover ways we connect to accomplish greater things