Cautiously use humor in your relationships

Many people find joy is using humor in their conversation with others. It is a method of bonding with those who are like-minded through affirming their mutual understanding and opinions about the subject, person, politics, religion, personal history or any other topic. A mutual chuckle creates intimate emotions, kinship and affirmation of one’s perspective as it creates closeness through sharing identical thoughts and feelings. Conversely, expressing political, religious or personal opinions with an unknown audience, new acquaintances, new family members or friends, may distance you from others if your views are not carefully worded. How can we get closer to new people without offending or discouraging further connection with them due to disparity of thoughts and feelings?

Lecturers of various topics often attempt to create a connection with the audience by using some humor, light-hearted jokes, or relate some examples of his/her life experiences that may elevate the interest of the listeners.

In “The effect of humor on speaker ethos and information gain”, researcher Charles R. Gruner of the University of Nebraska Research Council reported, “There is no known study that has posed the question of how humor affects the listeners’ interest, attention or results in greater learning.” It is possible that the audience was entertained, but not necessarily enlightened.

Another study, “The functional anatomy of humor: Segregating cognitive and affective components” by Vinod Goel and Raymond J. Dolan reported in Nature Neuroscience, “A common component of humor is expressed in activity in the medial ventral prefrontal cortex, a region involved in reward processing. The reward is often pleasing, entertaining or relief provoking.”

Since human sensitivities are formed early in life, joining like-minded others and befriending them provides a safe connection and a greater chance of compatibility. Listening to a perceived hostile joke, may distance the listener for emotional self-preservation.

When people meet new adults, the first common questions are about employment, and historical data. The intent is to find a common thread of connection with the new acquaintance. This creates a safer beginning in searching for mutual history and interests to safeguard greater ease in investing energy to create a safe new friendship.

Conversely, early introduction in which the new acquaintance exhibits behaviors or thoughts that are uncomfortable to hear by the listener may provide early signals that a deep friendship is unlikely to be formed.

Our humor topics are another measure of potential compatibility. If another’s jokes feel offensive, rather than funny, it is likely that the listener will quickly find an excuse to part with this party and seek another more like-minded friend.

Be slow to use your humor until you know the other’s perspective.

Use humor with people who are like-minded and light-hearted about specific topics.

Abstain from kidding about another’s views until you are clear about the listener’s openness to being challenged.

Don’t readily announce your views, until you are clear about the other’s like-mindedness.

Always respect others’ views, even if they are very different than yours. Be curious — Not furious!!!

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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