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The Effectiveness of Humor in Business Communications


James R. Martin
James R. Martin, Owner/Director, Procurement Management Group, 1042 Lakeside Court, Grand Junction, CO 81506, 303/245-7579.

80th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1995 - Anaheim, California

Introduction. Humor is the most effective form of assuring positive communications. It requires listening. It has the unique ability to open the barriers and emotional blocks of the mind. The success of humor in behavior modification is due to the persuasive human bonding of our frailties & weaknesses. In business performance the transmittal, receipt, understanding and subsequent action is paramount to success.

The prime requirement of business communications is the prompt and accurate exchange of information. The highest quality information exchange is behavioral. Management has no tolerance level for data that is incomplete, incorrect, and/or misunderstood. Such data triggers actions which are counter productive and even terminal to business posture.

The basic communication model places an equal responsibility on both the transmitter (sender/speaker) and the receiver (listener). It is not enough just to send a message and receive acknowledgement and receipt of same.

In positive communication we are concerned with the law of identification - the identification must satisfy a human pattern. Not a technical pattern - as an elusive formal code: It must relate to the human individual - and be sufficiently persuasive to elicit a response.

It has been determined by studies that some 75% of our communication is misunderstood. Much of our communication information is coded and decoded in its transmission process and thus both speaker and listener come away with an erroneous interpretation of what the other party is saying or doing, yet both are certain they have fulfilled their respective accountable actions. Misunderstandings and delays in subsequent corrective actions can be disastrous to the business picture.

The use of humor is peculiar to humans. Animals, fish, birds, rocks & stones do not have the ability to experience humor. It triggers the emotions, both parties experience the same needs and desires, and creates a bond that allows rapid response. It establishes a distance from the problem (stress/relief). IT IS A LEARNED SKILL.

The use of humor is not new - The genesis of humor is as old as the caves. In the old testament of the Bible; Shakespeare in his plays; many leaders and politicians in their quest to obtain attention and create a bonding that precedes the actions toward a desired objective have used humor as an effective communications device.

Humor is powerful. It makes it essential to listen and react. It create a comfort zone, it causes additional communication and thus minimizes the areas of misunderstanding. It is creative; It is unconventional, and need not follow any format; It is structured.

Humor can be used effectively in all the non-verbal communication styles - The language of sound, color, things, body language and most of all imagery.

It is a subtle and creative translator of anything and everything. It reflects a sensitivity of our frailties and our achievements. The basic use of humor is to assure a timely, positive and understandable informational exchange.

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