Like any tool, humor can be used in negative as well as positive ways. Making snide, hurtful remarks, for example, then criticizing the other person for not being able to take a joke will create even more problems and ultimately damage a relationship.
Humor can only help you overcome conflict when both parties are in on the joke. It’s important to be sensitive to the other person. If your partner, co-worker, family member, or friend isn’t likely to appreciate the joke, don’t say or do it, even if it’s “all in good fun.” When the joking is one-sided rather than mutual, it undermines trust and goodwill and can damage the relationship.
Humor should be equally fun and enjoyable for everyone involved. If others don’t think your joking or teasing is funny—stop immediately. Before you start playing around, take a moment to consider your motives, as well as the other person’s state of mind and sense of humor.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you feel calm, clear-headed, and connected to the other person?
- Is your true intent to communicate positive feelings—or are you taking a dig, expressing anger, or laughing at the other person’s expense?
- Are you sure that the joke will be understood and appreciated?
- Are you aware of the emotional tone of the nonverbal messages you are sending? Are you giving off positive, warm signals or a negative or hostile tone?
- Are you sensitive to the nonverbal signals the other person is sending? Do they seem open and receptive to your humor, or closed-off and offended?
- Are you willing and able to back off if the other person responds negatively to the joke?
- If you say or do something that offends, is it easy for you to immediately apologize?