Karyn Buxman

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Archive for December, 2016

Defusing Difficult Conversations

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It was 1984, and the second presidential debate between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan was underway. After the first debate, critics observed that Reagan looked tired, and they wondered if he might be too old for the job. Understanding how this precarious issue could affect the outcome of the debate—and the election—Reagan’s team went to work and prepared his response.

Sure enough, shortly after the debate commenced, a reporter asked Reagan, “Given the fact that you are already the oldest president in U.S. history, would you really be able to function should a crisis arise?”

Reagan assured the reporter that he’d be perfectly capable of dealing with any situation at hand—and then he quipped—”I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

When the laughter died down, so did the question of Reagan’s age. And he was elected president for a second term.

When you’re engaged in a difficult conversation, people often pose what author Malcolm Kushner calls a “Hostile Question.” The purpose of their question isn’t really to gain information, but to challenge you, embarrass you, make you express frustration, and put you in a negative light. You might hear questions like, “Who do you think you are?!” or “Whose budget is this coming out of?!”

You have numerous ways to approach the situation. You can be serious. You can debate. You can take the situation elsewhere. You can walk away. You can BS your way out. Or you can defuse the situation with humor. All of these approaches can succeed, but determining the right choice at the right time requires some discernment on your part.

Used strategically, humor can alter the hierarchy, placing you in a more powerful position. It is a sign of confidence, and a way of taking charge. The goal is not to get the other person laughing so hard that you can escape unnoticed, but to defuse tension, establish more control, and then guide the conversation in the direction that you want.

For leaders, humor can make people more receptive to your messages, build good relationships with employees, and build a more positive and productive corporate culture. For salespeople, humor can break the ice, ease tension, enhance communications, differentiate you from your competitors, and make you more memorable.

Set yourself apart by being strategic with your humor. Think back to a time when you were faced with hostile questions, particularly ones you might face again. Write down as many of these questions as you can think of. Then select one and begin creating a list of humorous responses. Come up with half a dozen or more. I can tell you from experience that the first few will probably be the funniest—but also the most perilous. (The purpose here is to defuse the bomb, not light the fuse!)

For leaders, your goal is not to get into a power struggle, but to reach a resolution. If you practice, you’ll find a response that will placate the situation and allow you to move the conversation in a more productive direction.

For salespeople, your goal is not to be a wise-ass, but to lessen tension and lighten the mood.

It was 1984, and the second presidential debate between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan was underway. After the first debate, critics observed that Reagan looked tired, and they wondered if he might be too old for the job. Understanding how this precarious issue could affect the outcome of the debate—and the election—Reagan’s team went to work and prepared his response.

Sure enough, shortly after the debate commenced, a reporter asked Reagan, “Given the fact that you are already the oldest president in U.S. history, would you really be able to function should a crisis arise?”

Reagan assured the reporter that he’d be perfectly capable of dealing with any situation at hand—and then he quipped—”I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

When the laughter died down, so did the question of Reagan’s age. And he was elected president for a second term.

When you’re engaged in a difficult conversation, people often pose what author Malcolm Kushner calls a “Hostile Question.” The purpose of their question isn’t really to gain information, but to challenge you, embarrass you, make you express frustration, and put you in a negative light. You might hear questions like, “Who do you think you are?!” or “Whose budget is this coming out of?!”

You have numerous ways to approach the situation. You can be serious. You can debate. You can take the situation elsewhere. You can walk away. You can BS your way out. Or you can defuse the situation with humor. All of these approaches can succeed, but determining the right choice at the right time requires some discernment on your part.

Used strategically, humor can alter the hierarchy, placing you in a more powerful position. It is a sign of confidence, and a way of taking charge. The goal is not to get the other person laughing so hard that you can escape unnoticed, but to defuse tension, establish more control, and then guide the conversation in the direction that you want.

For leaders, humor can make people more receptive to your messages, build good relationships with employees, and build a more positive and productive corporate culture. For salespeople, humor can break the ice, ease tension, enhance communications, differentiate you from your competitors, and make you more memorable.

Set yourself apart by being strategic with your humor. Think back to a time when you were faced with hostile questions, particularly ones you might face again. Write down as many of these questions as you can think of. Then select one and begin creating a list of humorous responses. Come up with half a dozen or more. I can tell you from experience that the first few will probably be the funniest—but also the most perilous. (The purpose here is to defuse the bomb, not light the fuse!)

For leaders, your goal is not to get into a power struggle, but to reach a resolution. If you practice, you’ll find a response that will placate the situation and allow you to move the conversation in a more productive direction.

For salespeople, your goal is not to be a wise-ass, but to lessen tension and lighten the mood.

Whether you’re dealing with irritable staff, cranky customers or obstinate teenagers—humor is a powerful means of defusing difficult conversations.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

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Humor as a Negotiation Tool—or—How Humor Saved the World

OCTOBER 1962 — The world held its breath as America and Russia went to the brink, with nuclear weapons at the ready. Russia was installing nuclear missiles in Cuba—a mere 90 miles from the Florida coast. The 13-day crisis played-out in real time on TV around the world.

As American and Soviet delegates came together to negotiate, tensions were high, and they soon became deadlocked. And then…a Russian delegate told a joke: “What is the difference between Capitalism and Communism? In Capitalism, man exploits man. In Communism, it is the other way around.”

Delegates on both sides laughed, and this created a bond among all of them. (Hey, ya gotta start somewhere!) With the tension eased for the moment, talks resumed, and eventually a deal was struck that avoided blowing up the planet—no small feat!

Whether you’re negotiating for world peace or for which movie to go to, humor can play a crucial role in your success.

According to a recent study on business negotiations, humor has numerous functions in the negotiation process. It can put the negotiators at ease; it can introduce a difficult issue; it can foster togetherness and team spirit; it can help the other negotiator save face; and it can be a way of being cooperative in spite of disagreement.

Additional studies show that if you can inject humor into your negotiations, you’re more likely to get what you’re negotiating for.

Once when I was negotiating with a potential client over the phone, it became obvious that budget was a delicate topic. I could feel the tension rising, and when he posed the question: “How much is this going to cost me?” I wanted to reduce the tension.

I paused and said, “Are you sitting down??” He laughed, and from that point, the conversation about money went smoothly.

Those four little words, spoken in just the right tone of voice, have helped me close dozens of deals over the years.

Think strategically. Who do you negotiate with? It might be with a colleague, a competitor, a customer, an employee, a boss, a colleague or even a family member. (You do understand, I hope, that getting a child to go to bed is not something that you command, but rather something you negotiate. Some of those rugrats make Johnnie Cochran look like an amateur. And don’t even get me started on teenagers!)

What are you negotiating for? Examine it and look for an opportunity to weave in a little humor—like a humorous and relevant anecdote, a funny comment or gesture. You probably want to start with something whimsical. Something short. Something that relates to the situation at hand. Negotiations are often important and intense, so use humor wisely, cautiously and professionally. (No “sharp jabs” like Don Rickles is famous for!)

The ability to successfully negotiate is a helpful skill for everyone, but it’s an essential tool for anyone who plans to sell or lead. You may not be called upon to save the world from nuclear war—but I guarantee that sometime soon you will be called upon to save a deal, or make the sale, or advance your agenda in some manner. Humor, used strategically, can make you a more powerful and effective negotiator.

Karyn Buxman, neurohumorist, is the author of the book Lead with Levity: Strategic Humor for Leaders and creator of an 18 (or 30) day online program to help leaders authentically, consistently and strategically use humor to enhance communication, build resilience and boost engagement. Click here to listen to 3 sample lessons.

Posted in: Business, Humor, Leadership

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