How to Use Humor to Diffuse Conflict
Before I criticize someone, I walk a mile in their moccasins. That way, if they get mad, they’re a mile away and barefoot.
Humor used the right way at the right time can be just what you need to diffuse a conflict at work. The credit industry is full of great opportunities to disarm negativity. Diffusing a tense situation can help all parties involved find a mutually satisfying solution more quickly. The trick is to put water, not fuel on the fire. A compassionate and benevolent intention go a long way to choosing the right thing to say. The secret of most good communicators is to choose a playful response in the face of challenge — not a personal put down, but a response that pokes fun at the situation.
Read the short stories below from other work environments, and then feel free to submit your story (or one you heard).
I client of mine was working at a major home improvement store in the paint department. When customers have complaints, paint is the last place you want to be, since they usually discover a problem after they have already spread it on their wall. And special colors are not accepted for return. One customer got so upset at the man that he said, “You can take this paint and shove it up your ass!” The man responded, “I’m sorry sir, you’re the third person to say that today so I’m all full of paint, but I’ll be open for more tomorrow.” The customer laughed and they were able to move on. (contributed by Stevie Ray)
This email was from my office manager who was taking care of my business while I was on vacation:
Dear Elaine – I am sorry for the delay in returning your email. I had to go with the police when they apprehended the man in the ski mask trying to steal your bank deposit. My broken arm should be healed within six weeks. Also, my son got his cute little hands on one of those permanent markers when I left him in the waiting room. The place kind of needed a paint job, though – don’t you think? You’ll be pleased to know that we decided on hot pink in your absence. The painters will be done later today and it only cost $2000 because they are high school students. See you soon, Jeannette. P.S. There was no armed robbery, or broken arm or hot pink paint job. But, I did forget to do the bank deposit and need Friday off again….so I just wanted to make sure you kept it all in perspective. (contributed by Elaine Robinson)
Our manager was pushing the IT technician to fix a huge computer breakdown in under half a day. The technician was getting frustrated at the unreasonable request, but rather than push back with resistance, he said, “Actually, I only need two hours. The other two I’ll be using to cure world hunger.” They both laughed and the manager mellowed out. (contributed by Linda Johnson)
A client kept returning our budget proposal saying it needed to be smaller. No matter how much trimming we did, the client kept pushing for “Smaller, smaller!” I finally took the proposal to a copier and had it reduced to two inches in size. I sent it to the client and said, “This is about as small as I can make it. Tell me what you think.” He called me saying it got a huge laugh in his office and that he would now accept the proposal as soon as he could find his magnifying glass. (contributed by Frank Freedman)
Super Size Urn
A funeral director was helping a grieving widow choose an urn for her husband’s ashes. Her husband was a man who enjoyed the finer things in life; he had a hearty build; a rotund, Santa-like exterior. The funeral director was trying to find a diplomatic way to tell her that the urn size should be extra-large. When she inquired as to the selection available, he simply said small, medium, large and Super Size. She looked up and there was a brief pause. Not knowing what to do, he said….”and today Super Size is only fifty cents more”. She replied somberly, “Wilbur always went for Super Size.” There was another pause – and then they both laughed. She later told him that little encounter really helped her release the stress of the situation. (contributed by Vanessa Miller)
Have you ever used to humor to diffuse tension, disarm negativity, or build rapport at work? We want your stories. Please send them to the email address below and you will receive a free eBook.