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Chapter 4. Disarming Anger With Humor > Cultivating the Use of Unexpected Humor

Cultivating the Use of Unexpected Humor

As previously mentioned, humor breaks the anger cycle. Properly done, it helps both parties move from confrontation to problem-solving. It should not be used to avoid a problem, but to help solve it. The complaint “He won’t take anything seriously!” is not a compliment. Humor can be used to avoid dialogue. Problems will not go away with humor alone. Work as much at discussing viable solutions to the problem as you do at using your sense of humor to deflect the attack.

Strategies That Work

A CEO was chided by an irate stockholder for donating extensively to charities in a down year. When asked how much was donated, the CEO replied, “Ten million dollars last year.” The questioner mockingly said “I think I’ll faint.” “That might be helpful,” the chairman replied, bringing down the house and regaining control of the proceedings.

Whenever the head of the personnel department had to face an irate administrator, she would greet them at the door with a fire hat perched on her head. They would look startled, smile, and ask, “What is that for?” She would say, “Well, you told me it was an emergency!” The tension was dissipated, and both could more easily address the problem.

One manager had a crisis meter on the door. The chart had a movable arrow with such readings as “All is clear,” “Batten down the Hatches,” and “Meltdown.” Once, as two managers intensified their argument, the manager went to the chart to change the meter reading. The resulting laughter helped refocus the conversation into constructive problem solving.

One manager found an interesting way to break the tension at a confrontational meeting. Just prior to starting the meeting agenda, he took out a target and pinned it to his chest to a chorus of laughter from the others in the room. The humor broke the tension and contributed to early problem solving.

Abraham Lincoln was a master in the use of humor. When challenged to a duel by a southern gentleman, he accepted under the condition he could pick the weapon and the location. After the gentleman accepted those conditions, Lincoln responded, “Cow dung at five feet.” You can guess the result.



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