Building Relationships with Humour

At our best, we feel confident and we can talk well with anyone. Our conversations become dialogues, and not competing monologues. We listen comfortably to what others have to say, we make our points effectively and we build relationships by adding a touch of humour. When we start to get angry, we recover quickly and become playful and inviting. Then we say things like: "Will you promise to listen if I promise to be brief?" "That's the first mistake I've made all year. Please forgive me." "You have just heard from my evil twin. I'm back." But when we are not at our best, as when we are tired or stressed, we are more likely to explode, implode, or shut down. Often we become irritable or critical.

In a conflict situation, how well do you communicate? When I am talking with someone, and feeling stressed, I have some 'first aid' comments that I rely on to stay centered. I say words like, "My mother wants me to listen now." Then I focus on listening and helping the speaker make his, or her, point. Even when I disagree with his opinion, I listen. When he is upset, I avoid using humour, especially teasing, knowing that trust is needed for humour to be welcome.

Making puns can help set a tone of goodwill and invite word play. Puns often make us smile. "I am in the board (bored) room," is a familiar pun. Of course, too many puns are often counterproductive. Instead of creating goodwill, puns can leave listeners annoyed or withdrawn. Listeners may perceive that your humour is a way to avoid having a good talk. If you are the listener you can reassure and influence a punster with a few words like, "I appreciate your efforts to keep the situation light. I'll bet you grew up in Punsylvania."

Bridging cleverly to a new topic using humour can relieve an awkward conversation. A humorous voice tone is important. I use words like, "This conversation reminds me of the time..." If the person speaking becomes offended by my words, then I simply reply in a more direct manner about my need for a shift in the conversation.

Getting into a happy mood often comes from reconnecting to our playful selves. One of my favourite memories occurred when I was on the VIA train from Toronto to Windsor. Ten minutes after leaving the station, I blew up a big balloon, tapped it into the air and soon all of the passengers in the train car were playing with the balloon.

In a business setting, fun activities can improve teamwork, reduce conflict, and impress customers. Raising money for a charity provides a great opportunity for a fun activity. Dress-down Friday has been replaced by at least one company with semi-formal Friday. The more adventurous companies might follow the lead of a Web-design company, which mixes long hours and hard work with wheeling around a beer cart Friday at 3 pm. And several companies, that I have presented to, have made a video of staff members in various departments dressing up and singing while they introduce themselves and what their department has been doing.

What appeals to you: Jokes, quotes, stories, puns, poems, exaggerations, understatements, or do you prefer to organize a fun activity? Life is challenging. Conflict is everywhere. Those who have learned to communicate well, and who add a touch of humour, enjoy more freedom to be honest, effective, and helpful. Small changes make big differences in your business and personal relationships.

To create interest and promote a receptive response, I use playful statements or questions like, "A long time ago, when I was young and foolish (pause)..." or "Have you ever been so confused that...?" The comments focus on hooking the listener's interest. Remember, even if you have great things to say, you need a receptive listener to make a good conversation.

Some situations are helped by making a humorous, selfdeprecating comment. I use words like, "My memory is not what it used to be, but..." This comment helps both of us to feel equal, each with our strengths and weaknesses. When we feel equal we find common ground and we are more able to deal with resolving conflict and problems.

To invite more fun in my relationships I sometimes write a poem or a limerick. I write poems for birthdays, for anniversaries, or for get-well cards. Years ago at my office, I wrote new words to Christmas songs about what our team had experienced through the year. And who is old enough to remember TV personality Allan Sherman who was so appreciated for writing songs to sing at parties, like "Hello Mudda, hello Fadda"? Writing fun material only seems difficult until you get started, and the payoff for your efforts is wonderful.

Leslie Rose has been leading Humour, Effective Communication, Customer Service, and Managing Stress seminars for over 25 years.
He also presents after-dinner talks at regional meetings and at conferences.