Ten GOP hopefuls squared off in last night’s debate when they faced 90 minutes of tough questions from three seasoned reporters. So what got excerpted and aired today on the morning talk shows? All the humorous one-liners. Former Arkansas Governor Huckabee’s comment: "We’ve had a Congress that’s spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop." Senator McCain’s line on Republicans losing the 2006 election: "We lost it because we in the Republican Party came to Washington to change government, and government changed us…. We spent money like a drunken sailor, although I never knew a sailor, drunk or sober, with the imagination of my colleagues."
When one of the "second-tier" candidates attacked his opponents about their "liberal" positions, Rudy Giuliani’s come-back was: "I think ‘Rudy McRomney’ wouldn’t make a bad ticket. And I kind of like the order."
Even the moderators made use of humor to drive home their points. At one juncture, Chris Wallace—with a mischievous grin—said to a candidate who had skirted his question with a canned response, "I’ll give you another 30 seconds to answer my question." And that itself, of course, brought a chuckle from the audience all too aware of the typical politician tap dance.
Humor opens people’s ears and hearts in most circumstances—whether they agree or disagree with your position on an issue. If you make them laugh, they’ll be more likely to give your message a hearing.
1. A sense of humor helps us step back from the seriousness of a situation and put disagreements and difficulties into perspective. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, his humor did more to calm the minds of American citizens than a flood of official press releases. Case in point: the comment he made as he was wheeled into surgery after being shot by a would-be assassin. To the doctors about to perform surgery, he quipped: "I hope you’re all Republicans."
2. Humor can be a powerful tension reliever, especially the kind of humor that brings a belly laugh. When people with potential conflicts are thrown into a situation together, the joking relationship that results often permits them to relax in an environment where everyone agrees not to take offense.
3. Another benefit of humor in communication is that it creates bonds. When two people allude to something with a knowing wink and smile, informing other listeners, "That’s an old joke," they draw a circle around themselves. "We’ve been through the fire together," they’re saying, "and we’ve shuffled something into a solution, or at least into perspective." If you can get your audience, no matter how big or small, to "wink" with you through some shared joke, it automatically builds camaraderie.
4. Self-deprecatory humor can even help us rise above feelings of inferiority. A popular notion says if we can laugh at ourselves before others do, we’re well-adjusted people. A speaker once stood in front of an audience at a large industry gathering. He began his speech with, "My mother would laugh at the irony of this situation. A "C" chemistry student standing to address a roomful of Ph.D. chemists…. There has to be some justice in this." With such self-deprecating humor, we disarm our potential critics.
5. Even positive physical benefits can come from a belly laugh. Laughter can relieve headaches and lower blood pressure. It would be cheaper and quicker to laugh—or at least to listen to laughter—than to reach into the medicine cabinet. Think of the city council sessions, advertising pitches, and even family meetings that are so much better and more effective when a little humor enters the atmosphere. Humor can engage a skeptical board or an annoyed spouse and lighten their mental load just enough so that they can actually hear what you have to say.
No matter what situation you find yourself in—running for president, presenting to an executive committee, or persuading the homeowner’s association to waive a code—humor can rock the boat enough to ease tension and engage hearts and minds in your message.