Defusing Relationship Conflict With Humour

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Survey after survey suggests that one of the keys to a healthy, positive, successful, long-term relationship is humour.

Couples, families, friends and work teammates that appreciate humour and share a lot of humour with one another report being more satisfied with their personal relationships. As long as the humour is positive, humour helps people come across as more trustworthy, likeable, authentic, and yes, even more physically attractive!

Humour is also an essential tool to help reduce tensions that invariably arise in any relationship. In Canadian funny-man Martin Short’s biography, I Must Say, Short describes how his wife would ask to speak to his alter ego character Ed Grimley as a way to defuse the tension when they argued. Ed’s sweet goofiness and honesty almost always helped lower the temperature during a heated discussion.

Here are a few other ways (some Ed Grimley-esque, some more serious) to lower the temperature when any relationship threatens to get a tad tense.

1. Agreeing with the other person’s position, no matter how crazy you think it might be, demonstrates empathy and immediately lowers the temperature to a point that you can engage in a more constructive conversation.

2. Call a 60-second “fun dance” break. Yes, it’s a silly idea, and that’s the point. My wife and I have done it for years and it works. OK, not all the time, but most of the time it does the trick. It’s hard to stay mad with people when you’re dancing. Just ask Kevin Bacon or the father in Dirty Dancing.

3. Call for an official H.T.O. – a Humour Time Out. Whether it’s just the two of you or your entire family or team, have everyone go around the room and tell a funny clean joke or quick funny story.

4. A change of scenery can do wonders, as can meeting in neutral territory. So, if tensions are rising in the boss’s office or with your spouse in the kitchen, try going across the street to the park or finding a neutral common room.

5. In a team or meeting situation, assign a “meeting referee” or “meeting jester” – someone who can deploy some safe, timely humour to defuse tension and help keep everyone communicating in a respectful, constructive manner.

6. If all else fails, challenge the person to a Silly String battle. In case you think I’m being facetious with such an off-the-wall idea, consider how the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher settled a trademark dispute by challenging another CEO to a public arm wrestling match. Several thousand people attended the highly publicized “Malice in Dallas” match at Dallas’s Sportatorium, garnering national media attention and raising money for charities, to boot.

Michael Kerr, Humour at Work. Michael is an international business speaker and the author of The Humour Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing All the Way to the Bank!