Humour is an underrated tool for diffusing conflict, says humorist and author Marcel Strigberger.
Strigberger, whose public speaking engagements include judges and lawyers, tells his legal audiences to shed their inhibitions and embrace their inner child with gentle humour to lighten the mood in tense situations.
“Kids will laugh 400 times a day, but by the time you’re an adult, you’re down to about 15 times if you’re lucky,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com, explaining that children get mixed messages from grown-ups about the value of humour.
For example, he was recently in a busy elevator with two young children and a parent, when the passengers pressed three consecutive floor numbers and laughed about how funny six, seven, eight in a row looked lit up.
While Strigberger chuckled to himself, the children’s mother admonished them and told them not to be silly.
“Unfortunately, the sense of humour tends to dry up, and people become afraid to use what remains for fear they will appear unserious,” he says.
However, Strigberger says that a well-timed quip can pay off, and he quotes a series of studies by Stanford University professors showing that colleagues who laugh frequently are among the most respected by peers.
And before his retirement, he practised what he preached during his 42-year career as a personal injury and family lawyer, channelling John Cleese’s advice to be serious and not solemn.
“Humour is effective, even when you’re discussing serious issues,” Strigberger says. “You can lighten the situation or lubricate discussions.”
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