So of course, we cut through the tracks.
How much trouble could we get in?
It was dawn – hooligans would have exhausted themselves and gone to bed, we reasoned.
Um, what could go wrong?
The day was still and cool. The sun was low but bright enough. And we were alone.
Utterly, completely alone.
Until we weren’t.
A huddle of young men suddenly appeared the far end of the yard. They were immediately menacing. From a distance, they were a mass of black leather, angry zippers, spikey hair and even spikier body piercings.
And a stick. Which one of them carried ahead of the others like a priest carries the cross in an Easter procession.
But it wasn’t a cross:
Something was impaled on the tip. Something big and black.
We were trapped:
I looked behind me and realized we were too far to turn back and make a run for it.
The three of us murmered back and forth for a bit weighing our options and settling on the only one really available to us.
Keep our eyes down. And don’t look scared. I failed miserably at both, lifting my head up repeatedly to try and make out what was on the top of the spear.
As they got closer:
I could finally make out what it was. A bird. A dead bird. A giant, dead, black bird.
They were upon us.
And while we’d hoped we’d just slip on by, as we passed they closed around us.
We were three very scared Canadian kids surrounded by close to a dozen very tough British Punk Rockers who were looking for trouble.
“Oy, then, how come you’ve got two girls and we’ve got none,” said the leader.
There was an eerie quiet except for the terrible loud pounding noise in my chest and my throat.
Paul’s face got that impish look it got whenever he was going to tell a joke.
“Here,” he said. “Take this one,” and he pushed my sister forward.
They burst out laughing.
Paul and I did too. My sister Heather, not so much.
But they broke the circle and while they were laughing, we just started walking and they let us go.
Reasoning would have failed:
The laughter broke the incredible tension and let them de-escalate the situation gracefully.
Of course, not every dire situation calls for humour.
But nothing cuts tension or changes the mood like an unexpected moment of levity.
But only try that at home if…
What you find funny, not everyone will. Here are a few tips to make sure the joke works with you and not against you.
- Make sure it’s not at your opponent’s expense
- Self-deprecating humour often works well but don’t undercut yourself or your position
- Only say something that would work for you not against you if someone were secretly taping you and leaked it to the public.
- Don’t insert humour where there has been a tragedy
- If you are at fault and/or offering any kind of apology, better to leave the humour at home.
I’ve been in meetings where things weren’t going so well and we were able to turn it around by completely changing the tone and getting folks laughing. It’s an important skill to develop, and yes, it does take work.
But knowing if, when, and how to use humour in tense meetings can actually win you the respect of those who were only a few minutes ago working against you. People go a bit easier on people they like. And it’s hard not to like someone who makes you laugh.