When did that smile defuse a difficult situation?

Solving sensitive situations with humor: 4 methods

Sometimes we get into conversation situations - both professionally and privately - in which nothing seems to work anymore. Then humor is often an effective means of addressing the problem To release tension and the To steer conversation in new directions. Under the following condition:

We assess the situation correctly and we have learned to use humor in a targeted manner.

"Laughing is healthy." This folk wisdom is not only taken to heart by parents - for example when they try to cheer up their sick children with a hot soup and funny story. Numerous scientific studies have shown that this motto contains a true core. This is how laughing should be:

  • reduce pain
  • strengthen the immune system
  • Accelerate healing processes

Many doctors have also recognized this, which is why humor courses for doctors and hospital clowns are no longer uncommon in children's wards.

But humor not only heals, it also works relaxing - For example, in conversations and situations in which everything seems to be bogged down. For example, if the life partner feels overwhelmed. Or when an employee or colleague is in a low mood. Or when a client is just frustrated in a counseling situation.

Because humor creates an emotional distance to problems and lets them appear in a different, usually brighter light.

It triggers amusement and thus the confidence that is usually necessary to cope with problems. A joke in the right place can make one conflictdefuse and open up new perspectives.

But be careful! Used incorrectly humor is destructive. For example, if the relationship with the other person is shaky, a well-intentioned joke is quickly interpreted as malicious pleasure. It is similar when a person is caught in dark thoughts. Then a humorous statement is often used as an expression lack of empathy felt.

But if the conditions are right? Then humor is as "Stress reliever“Very effective. Therefore, some methods are presented here on how you can master difficult (conversational) situations with him.

1st method: gently caricature the world or self-image

This is a technique that we often use intuitively in everyday life, with friends and relatives "Lovingly poke fun at". Here is an example:

A husband has been complaining for days that he is getting old and is less and less productive. At first his wife listens to him patiently, tries to convince him otherwise and pities him - to no avail. So at some point she intuitively resorts to “medicine humor” to stop his self-pity. When he complains again, she replies with a wink: “I have already signed up for a course on 'Caring for Elderly Relatives' so I can look after you. We should also get a wheelchair. Perhaps an appointment with the health insurance company would also be good to determine your level of care. "

In this example, the woman enters her husband's world or self-image and gently overdraws it - speak with a wink. This makes her husband realize that his self-pity is overdone. He is shaken up and thinks about his behavior.

EXTRA: Emotions in everyday business: What we need them for

An example from everyday working life: The office clerk Ms. Müller confides in her manager that she suffers from being so good-natured and too often rashly saying “yes”. And she has the feeling that her colleagues are taking advantage of this. Time-consuming work would always be dumped on her. Here could be a humorous intervention from your boss - provided the relationship is right: “Ms. Müller, your colleagues are certainly happy that you are so helpful. You are almost as selfless as a saint. However, let me remind you that the lives of saints used to end in cruel ways. It would be a shame if you suffered burnout and…. That is why I recommend you ... "Such an oversubscription could be a Impetus for a change in behavior so that Ms. Müller doesn't always say "Yes, I'll do it".

2nd method: reinterpret the negative

Is a glass half empty or half full? How we evaluate a situation depends on us. We can determine for ourselves whether we look at it from a negative or a positive point of view. For almost everyone negative situation applies:

If we look at it from a different perspective, it appears in a different light.

Similar to a picture that we put in a new frame: it usually looks different. This reinterpretation falls to us in "Crisis situations“Often difficult. Because then we get stuck in one perspective and can't manage to reinterpret the situation on our own. So we need outside stimulus.

EXTRA: Positive Psychology: Guide to Happiness in the Workplace

An example of how helpful a humorous reinterpretation could be: Ms. Huber, a 45 year old office clerk, has been unemployed for a year. She takes advice because she would like to work as a secretary again. She is totally frustrated. Because although she is regularly invited to job interviews, she never receives a job offer. The atmosphere in the counseling gets darker and heavier the longer Ms. Huber describes the hurt she has suffered. And by the way, she also complains that she is single and would like to have a partner again.

At this point the consultant took the floor and asked Ms. Huber: “Do you conduct most job interviews with men?” She is amazed at this question, but answers in the affirmative. The consultant then suggests to the perplexed office clerk: “Consider the job interviews as 'blind dates' as part of your search for a partner. Take a close look at the interviewer as they do with you. ”For example, Ms. Huber should look: Is the person I was talking to wearing a wedding ring? Does he keep eye contact while speaking? Is he a sporty type? For the first time during the consultation, Ms. Huber has to laugh heartily.

This reinterpretation has at least loosened up the counseling situation. Or maybe it has one more lasting effect. Perhaps Ms. Huber will actually think of the keyword “partner search” in the next job interview and leave looser and more relaxed in the conversation. This improves their charisma and increases their chances of being accepted.


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3rd method: aggravate the problem

Another means of loosening the stuck point of view of the other person is paradoxical questions and statements. So instead of asking “How do we solve the problem?” To ask, for example: “How do we intensify the problem?” Such an intervention often solves one in the other person problem-solving backlash out. An experience that parents often have, for example: asking children to stop screaming is unlikely to be very successful. On the other hand, if you ask children to scream even louder, you will usually soon notice that the screaming is ebbing.

So sometimes surprise your counterpart in tricky situations with seemingly paradoxical questions or requests. For example, ask: "How do you manage to sleep even worse?" Or: "What would you have to do to finally suffer burnout?" Or: "How do you guarantee that your boss will fire you?"

4th method: listen to the "rubber tree"

Are also helpful for a change of perspective Dissociations. That means looking at yourself from the outside and asking yourself: "How do others see me?" Awareness of one's own behavior reached. This in turn creates new perspectives and sets processes of reflection in motion. That is important to get stuck Breaking up thought and behavioral structures.

Typical questions would be: “What do you think your colleague x thinks when he sees you so upset?” Or: “What would your boss say about this problem?”. Or: "What would your mother advise you in this situation?"

There are humorous alternatives to this rather serious approach. For example: "What would the rubber tree in your living room tell me about communication in your family?" Or: "How would your cat describe you?"

EXTRA: Developing personality: Questions for self-reflection

Use humor very selectively and purposefully

All of the above methods to a person with a sense of humor new way of looking at a problem or opening up a situation have one thing in common: It is extremely important to develop a feeling for when they can or cannot be used. In addition, you should be balanced and relaxed yourself. Otherwise, humorous statements will quickly get one sarcastic and thus hurtful undertone.

Using humor in delicate (conversational) situations as an instrument to release tension and open up new perspectives is a fine balancing act. Therefore, before you decide to use this instrument, always check:

  • How sustainable is our relationship?
  • What is the mental state of my counterpart?
  • What does his body language tell me?

For example, if he is on the verge of "bursting" inside, then you should refrain from humor. It is the same when you feel that it takes a lot of effort for your counterpart to open up. The same applies if you are unsure yourself whether humor is a suitable problem or tension solver in the current situation. Then you should refrain from using it. Because humor is not an easy-to-use intervention tool. But sometimes - and with the necessary practice - a very powerful one.

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Sabine Prohaska is the owner of the training and consulting company seminar consult prohaska in Vienna and author of the books "Coaching in Practice" and "Successful in Training - Practical Handbook".