2. Humor as a communication tool
What are the ingredients of humor?
The main ingredients of humor are:
- the ability to provoke laughter
- the ability to feel/to experience/appreciate a funny or amusing message
Why is humor important?
It has been proven by researchers that humor, especially laughter, affects our body as well as our mind.
It was discovered that rowing on an exercise machine 100 times was about the same as laughing for 10 minutes. Our muscles grow stronger from the tightening and relaxing. Sounds wonderful, isn’t it? Here comes more …
Certain cells in the immune system are activated when people laugh. These cells help kill germs, and new cells are produced faster. Also when people laugh, their temperature rises, pulse and blood pressures become lower and breathing deepens. Laughing makes your energy level rising with 20-40%. Pretty good, isn’t it? And this is not the end!
Humor also affects our mind in certain ways. When people laugh, endorphins (chemicals within the brain) are released. Endorphins give a feeling of well-being, better thinking skills and pain doesn’t bother as much. Humor also reduces stress since laughing reduces the Cortisol-level, anger and tension. Convinced?
What are the benefits of humor during a coaching session?
Besides the positive influence of humor on our body and mind, here are some specific benefits for the coach and the client:
- Humor creates a relaxing and safe atmosphere. Because laughing distresses the brain, the client feels more relaxed/safe.
- Humor can help keeping matters in proportion. It can help to reframe a stressful situation or defuse heavy situations.
- The right dose of humor at the right time can give the client sudden healthy distance from the described concern. Client: “I am sort of … I don’t know how to … I am …”. Coach: “At a loss of words, maybe?”
- Humor and laughing have a social impact. Smiling together creates a relationship and rises the energy level.
- Humor can help the client to stay focused. Humor suddenly creates a break in rhythm and that can give the client new perspective on the work process or content.
- Humor can help the client to memorize the message, the action plan, the intention, …
- Humor creates intimacy and warms the relation. Humor makes people feel loved and understood.
- Humor transmits strength and trust.
- I found a nice phrase in the book ‘Co-active coaching’ about the benefits of humor: “Even though coaching can be powerful emotionally, there is still space for humor. Exploring forbidden territory with humor can give clients license to approach the dark areas on light feet or to feel curiosity about the depth of the murky water instead of fearing that they are about to drown.” I couldn’t say better J.
How does it work? Where does it come from?
Most productive humor cannot be planned on the coach’s part. It just comes out, surprises and lightens the atmosphere.
Think about one of the golden rules in coaching: listen to your intuition, dance on the moment, … You will use/find humor if the time is right.
Using humor at the right time and in a natural way is a skill. This skill is one of the many skills a coach can have. To quote John Adair, Britain’s foremost expert on leadership training: “Besides the ability to listen, the very good or really advanced listener is consistently going to show and use some other qualities or attributes in a rare combination: sensitivity, empathy, patience, humor, curiosity, intelligence, creativity and – let it be added – endurance. He or she will tend to be a person of wide interests with a natural interest in people. They may be businesslike in listening but it never shows. For the essence of art is that it makes it seem natural”.
Don’t fall into the trap … find a balance!
Can we use humor whenever we want? No. It is a matter of finding the right balance. No need to use humor in every session.
As a coach it is important to be aware of the potential risks of using humor:
- Humor in a coaching relationship is a communication skill that should not be confused with sarcasm, irony or making fun of someone.
- Humor has to serve the meaning. Don’t let vividness of humor draw the attention away from the message.
- Humour is very subjective. What someone finds hilarious, seems savourless or faint to someone else. People of all ages and cultures respond to humor. Though ultimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which a person will find something humorous depends upon a host of variables, including geographical location, level of life-experience, age, gender, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context and the moment itself.
- Do use humor that relates to your topic. Don’t use humor that mixes up your message.
- Don’t offend. Use appropriate language. Take the ICF-codes of Ethics into account.