17 Sep “I Need To Tell You Something HR”, my wife says as she motions HR to sit down. HR sits and turns her head to her, “what’s that, mom?” My wife looks back to her, “Yo, lighten the f*ck up.” #punkAF (2.4k)
Having a good sense of humor makes you more enjoyable to be around. You might also do better at work (as long as you don’t go overboard). Yet even if you were cursed with poor timing or a lack of the funnies, here’s how you can develop your sense of humor.
Immerse Yourself in Humor
You learn more effectively when you immerse yourself in a subject (such as a language). Similarly, you can refine your sense of humor by immersing yourself in humor. Watch standup comedians. Listen to podcasts that amuse you. Read humorous books. There’s a lot of funny out there!
For one thing, you might be able to actually copy the jokes and use them yourself. Benjamin Errett, author of Elements of Wit, says in an interview with Vice, “There are two types of people. Parrots and magpies. Some people just steal their lines, and repeat them. Others hunt out gold.”
Although parroting is frowned upon in the professional standup comedy world (although it still happens regularly), there’s no shame in regular folk parroting the pros, especially if you can use it as a stepping stone to evolve further. Even author Oscar Wilde was a parrot. Errett says in this interview with NPR:
He’s an interesting case because a lot of what he’s done was lifted and borrowed and recycled. You can even see in some of his most famous works, there are lines that reappear. So he was always honing and fine-tuning everything that he was doing. And one of the interesting things about him that I really find admirable is that he had this persona in sort of salon society in Victorian London as this guy who was a great talker, but what has he ever done? And he was sort of known in society – he was sort of a Kardashian of his time. But he went on to do works of great substance and lasting value.
If you’re not particularly funny, you might start off as a parrot (“I heard something funny the other day…”). Immersing yourself in humor will definitely help you parrot away. However, if you want to evolve from parroting, don’t just memorize or recite jokes. Pay attention to comedians’ timing and delivery. Notice their facial expressions and body language. You don’t have to replicate it, but you should notice it so you can use it in your own jokes.
Part of this process will be conscious, but your mirror neurons will probably pick up on certain cues and body language. For me, I find Aziz Ansari pretty funny (some folks prefer him in small dosages, but I could watch his standup for hours). I didn’t even notice I was parroting his high-pitched voice until a friend pointed it out.
Be Witty, Not Silly
If you’re looking to get wittier on the fly, as Errett highlights to the Wall Street Journal, your goal is to combine spontaneous creativity with ideas that delight. Sarcasm and stale jokes do have a certain funny appeal, but being witty goes beyond that.
The happy point is that if you don’t feel like you’re witty, you can develop wit. In that same interview with Vice, Errett mentions, “George Bernard Shaw was originally a terrible speaker and about as sharp as a beach pebble, yet over time he worked on it and developed into one of the great wits of his day. Half the battle is accepting that you can learn it.” In other words, you’ll need to adopt a growth mindset.
The challenge of wit is in its spontaneity. You can hone your wit by regularly quipping with other people. If you know someone who takes being witty as seriously as you do, it might help to enlist them as a type of “witty” sparring partner.
If you’re comfortable with it, you can also try your hand at wit in the real world (e.g., dinner parties, the office, the coffee shop, in the elevator, family reunions). Part of this real world exposure is in exposing yourself to the spontaneity that wit requires. If you’re new to it, or nervous or reserved about it, you might have trouble speaking up quickly enough to time it properly.
Silly humor can be a solid starting point for some audiences, but it can get old quickly. It also might make you look immature (which can be bad at work and in the eyes of some people). A lot of people laughed at Borat, not with him. (Plus, do you want to be known in the same context as Borat?) On the flip side, even bad comedy and silliness has its fans. Know your audience.
Learn What Amuses You
A lot of times, we say things purely to please others. We flatter friends or colleagues by praising a change they made. We bring up topics that we know others might be interested in. However, when it comes to being funny, don’t tweak your sense of humor to cater to other people. Instead, start with what amuses you. Then, if you think the other person will also be amused with it, share it with them.
Will Wister writes at Quora:
When delivering comedy professionally or making friends laugh, it’s important that you amuse yourself, and that you’re not kow-towing to others with your humor. That’s often deemed in the world of comedians to be the behavior of a hack.
You’ll be funniest when you find something amusing and delightful. That is the starting point, before you wonder about other people’s opinions.
With that said, even though you’re looking at your own sense of humor, you should definitely consider your audience and the situation. Even if a remark is absolutely tear-jerking, knee-slapping, hilarious, it can be considered in poor taste if you say it in the wrong situation. This type of observation and restraint is a whole other can of worms.
Think About Timing and Audience
You don’t have to be funny all the time (or even on demand), so don’t expect that of yourself. Don’t let other people expect that of you. When you catch yourself trying to be funny, slow down.
Even if you’re parroting, slow down when you’re telling a joke. It’s scary because you’re probably thinking, “Don’t mess up this punch line. Don’t mess up this punch line. Don’t mess up this punch line.” Simply speak slower so you’re not as likely to stutter. Try speaking at 60-70% of your usual rate. Pause in between sentences. Gauge feedback on your attempts.
As writer Carol Burnett says, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” When you’re considering your audience, make sure that enough time (but not too much) has passed and that no one is saddened or threatened by the tragedy. It helps if the tragedy only affected you. A study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science examines the “sweet spot” of timing:
Time creates a comedic sweet spot that occurs when the psychological distance from a tragedy is large enough to buffer people from threat (creating a benign violation) but not so large that the event becomes a purely benign, nonthreatening situation.
If you’re about to tell a joke, there’s no need to preamble or announce it. Just tell it. Be appropriate with subject matter. Even if you find something amusing, it doesn’t help your cause—to delight other people—by offending a colleague or friend. (If you’ve overheard or been the victim of a stereotyped joke, here’s how you can respond.)
Once you say something to the world, it’s out there. If it’s about yourself, it can be perceived as self-deprecating and can be funny while offending as few people as possible. If you find something amusing, ask yourself—will it offend someone? Is now an appropriate time to say it?
Know When to Let It Die, or Pull the Plug on Yourself
Few things are more cringeworthy than when someone tries to continue a bad story.
The Power of Discernment
You possess a power that can determine the quality of your life. This power is called discernment.
It is the skill (or lack thereof) to discern which people you want to associate or spend time with.
Discernment is choosing which friends to be close to.
Discernment is choosing whether or not to work for a particular boss.
Discernment is choosing which spouse to marry.
The ability to discern who is good for you to get close to and who is not is a skill.
It’s an important skill because the quality of your life is directly related to the quality of people around you.
Going through life’s adversities with friends who put you down… harms your life.
Deciding to continue working with a boss who doesn’t respect you… harms your life.
Choosing a romantic partner that doesn’t offer any emotional support… harms your life.
The inverse is true too.
When life gets impossibly difficult, but you have amazing friends there with you… your life benefits.
When your boss respects and supports you, your professional life benefits.
When your romantic partner is a true partner to you through the ups and down, your life benefits.
The ability to discern is a skill that’s worth developing.
However, many people never develop this skill.
This occurs because many people (myself included for most of my life) assume that we have no choices.
For some of us, we don’t choose our friends. Friendships kind of just happen and we get who we get.
For some of us, we don’t choose our boss. We kind of end up with the boss we get.
For some of us, we don’t choose our romantic partner. We kind of just end up with someone somehow.
The first step in developing your discernment skills is to realize that you have the inherent right to choose which people you do and do not want in your life.
You can invite those you want in your life to be a closer and bigger part of your life.
Thin Slices & First Impressions
Thin slice methodology is an important term to understand when it comes to being an effective communicator, especially with nonverbal cues and elements. Firstly, let me be clear that the term ‘thin slice’ has nothing to do with the width of a slice of pizza!
What thin slice methodology does refer to is observing a small selection of an interaction, usually less than 5 minutes, and being able to accurately draw to conclusions in the emotions and attitudes of the people interacting. These observations are, often surprisingly to many people, very accurate compared to self-ratings and ratings based on the entire interaction. This holds true even when based on observing only a few seconds of the interaction with the first moments of the interaction being the most relevant (Ambady et al, 2000). 5 second clips have been reported to be just as accurate as 5 minutes clips (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1993).
What is interesting regarding these accurate reports is people are often not able to report the factors that influence their judgments. We can all recall moments in the past when thinking or saying aloud that someone is really pleasant, or someone else seems creepy. The accuracy of these macro traits includes: liking, trust, competence, dominance, nervousness, warmth, likability, expressiveness, sympathy, and politeness.
However micro traits such as: smiling, eye contact, open-handed gestures, fidgeting, stiff posture, facing another direction that correspond to the macro traits are not easy for people to articulate. Basically, it is easy to describe general attitudes and emotions but when asked to give specific details, this is where the trouble comes in. This could be due to the nature of nonverbal decoding by individuals is often automatic and happening subconsciously.
Thin slice methodology has been researched and its accuracy has been demonstrated in a variety of areas. This includes the first impressions of strangers with self-ratings, being able to identify sexual orientation, telephone operator’s job performance, teacher ratings, sales people and trust, medical students and rapport, interviewers and job applicants, and between students and supervisors.
What conclusions and value can you can get from this?
Firstly, knowing these type of judgments are being made—both by you and by others, and often once the interaction begins—allows you to prepare now for these interactions.
“Why are you telling me this, mom?”, HR asks as she pleads with her big brown eyes.
“Well”, my wife replies as she turn her head towards the window, “it’s cause we have a surprise birthday party for your dad and you’re trying too hard to hold in the secret, Yo. He can read you like a book, you know?”
“Oh!”, HR replies as she looks down at the linoleum floor, “so what do you want to do?”
“In general?”, my wife replies as she turns her head back to HR, “or what do you want from me, in particular?”
“Huh?”, HR repies as she lifts her head up, “what do you mean, Yo?”
“Well”, my wife replies as she turns her head away from HR, “there’s 2 things to consider:
1. What do I want, in general
2. What do I want from you, in particular
Using this idea, be clear with people if you want something from them, in particular, or if your wishes are more of the general side. For example, I want a bigger house. Rather then being vague about it to your dad, I think, so what do I want in particular from him towards this general want, of mine. Then I ask him the specific request. For example, instead of just saying that I want a bigger house, what if I ask him to drive me to meet the realtor next Tuesday at 78pm? Then, it’s fine if he can or can’t, or doesn’t want to–I respect his decision. But, this way, I am making it clear what I want from him, towards this dream, in particular. Does that make sense?”
“What?”, HR replies as she turns her head from the window towards my wife, “I actually wasn’t paying attention. You notice a new squirrel out there?”
“Yeah”, my wife replies as she turns her head towards the window, “he showed up last week. Anyways, just be yourself, ok? It’ll be fine. You hungry?”