How to use humor to diffuse conflict


Before I criticize someone, I walk a mile in their loafers. That way, if they get mad, they’re a mile away and barefoot.

Humor used in the right way at the right time can be just what you need to defuse a conflict at work. The credit industry is full of great opportunities to disarm negativity. De-escalating a tense situation can help all parties involved find a mutually satisfactory solution more quickly. The trick is to put water, not wood, on the fire. A compassionate and benevolent intention goes a long way in choosing the right thing to say. The secret of most good communicators is to choose a playful response to the challenge, not a personal put-down, but a response that makes fun of the situation.

Read the short stories below from other work environments, and then feel free to submit your story (or one you’ve heard).

painting department

My client worked at a major home improvement store in the paint department. When customers have complaints, paint is the last place you want to be, as they usually discover a problem after they’ve already spread it on their wall. And special colors are not accepted for return. One customer got so upset with the man that he told her, “You can take this paint and shove it up your ass!” The man replied, “I’m sorry sir, you’re the third person to say that today, so I’m full of paint, but I’ll be open for more tomorrow.” The customer laughed and they were able to move on. (contributed by Stevie Ray)

office manager

This email was from my office manager who was taking care of my business while I was on vacation:

Dear Elaine, Sorry for the delay in returning your email. I had to go to the police when they caught the man in the ski mask trying to steal your bank deposit. My broken arm should be healed within six weeks. Also, my son put his cute little hands on one of those permanent markers when I dropped him off in the waiting room. The place needed a paint job though, don’t you think? You’ll be pleased to know that we decided on hot pink in your absence. The painters will be finished later today and they are only $2000 because they are high school students. See you soon, Jeannette. PS: No armed robbery, no broken arm, no hot pink paint. But I forgot to make the bank deposit and I need Friday off again…so I just wanted to make sure you kept it all in perspective. (contributed by Elaine Robinson)

time frame

Our manager was pushing the IT guy to fix a huge computer glitch in less than half a day. The technician was getting frustrated by the unreasonable request, but instead of resisting, he said, “Actually, I only need two hours. The other two I will use to cure world hunger.” They both laughed and the manager softened. (contributed by Linda Johnson)

smaller budget

A client kept returning our quote proposal saying it needed to be smaller. No matter how much trimming we did, the customer kept insisting on “Smaller, smaller!” I finally took the proposal to copy and reduced it to two inches in size. I sent it to the client and said, “This is the smallest thing I can do. Tell me what you think.” He called me saying that he laughed a lot in his office and now he would accept the proposal as soon as he could find his magnifying glass. (contributed by Frank Freedman)

large urn

A funeral director was helping a grieving widow choose an urn for her husband’s ashes. Her husband was a man who enjoyed the finer things in life; he had a robust constitution; a resounding exterior, like that of Santa Claus. The funeral director was trying to find a diplomatic way to tell her that the size of the urn should be extra large. When she asked about the selection available, she simply said small, medium, large, and super. She looked up and there was a brief pause. Not knowing what to do, she said…”and today Super Size is only fifty cents more.” She grimly replied, “Wilbur always chose Super Size.” There was another pause, and then they both started laughing. She later told him that this little meeting really helped her to release the stress of the situation. (contributed by Vanessa Miller)

Have you ever used humor to diffuse tension, defuse negativity, or build rapport at work? We want your stories. Send them to the email address below and you will receive a free eBook.