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In part A, Courtney delved into her multifaceted career journey. She also discussed the science and universality of humor, its role in conflict situations, and its dual power in self-empowerment and influencing others.
We strongly recommend that you check part A if you haven’t already. Now, without wasting any more time, let’s jump right in.
Nolan kicks off the conversation by asking how humor can be used during challenging negotiations to make them more cooperative and successful. Courtney recalls leading a strategic planning retreat for a business development team, a situation heavy with tension due to impending budget cuts.
To set a more positive tone, Courtney introduced a humor-based exercise, encouraging participants to come up with punchlines to pre-set jokes. This not only served as an ice-breaker but also created inside jokes that became tools for diffusing tension throughout the retreat. When disagreements arose, or the atmosphere became charged, someone would recall one of these jokes, effectively hitting a ‘reset’ button and lightening the mood.
That said, Courtney cautions that humor isn’t suitable for all conflict situations. The key is reading the situation and discerning when humor can be a beneficial tool.
To further illustrate this, Courtney shares a personal anecdote of a border crossing between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. When confronted with border guards seeking a bribe, Courtney used humor to diffuse the situation by offering them copies of the Economist magazine as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to a bribe. Recognizing the humor, the guards let them pass.
The overarching message from Courtney is the importance of understanding social cues to determine when humor can be a powerful tool in negotiations.
Next, the topic shifts toward the significance of humor in internal team dynamics and leadership. Aram asks Courtney if she has observed the impact of humor in leadership roles, especially in enhancing productivity and achieving better results within teams.
Courtney responds affirmatively, noting that she has personally incorporated humor into her leadership style and has experienced its benefits firsthand. She recalls her time leading strategic planning with an internal team and her experiences in the Balkans as instances where humor played a crucial role.
She highlights that a leadership approach infused with humor, creativity, and safety promotes better morale, boosts individual and organizational health, and fosters creativity. Courtney notes that such a positive environment also aids in employee retention. Furthermore, when an organization adopts a culture of levity and fun, this often translates to better client relations and success.
Aram concurs, reflecting on his past experiences working under leaders who possessed a good sense of humor or could offer creative insights. He shares that he found working under such leaders enjoyable and felt more motivated to go above and beyond.
To further validate her point, Courtney mentions various studies from reputable institutions like Stanford and Harvard that demonstrate the tangible benefits of humor in the workplace. These studies show that humor can increase productivity, boost sales, and enhance job satisfaction.
Moving on, Aram delves into a concern about how negotiators can effectively use humor without compromising the professionalism and respectfulness of the negotiation. He wonders how one can balance the two without crossing any boundaries.
Courtney acknowledges the validity of this concern, stressing the importance of always maintaining professionalism. She advises against humor that targets someone directly, as well as jokes that play on racial, cultural, or societal stereotypes. Instead, she encourages self-deprecating humor, which she believes can create empathy as long as it doesn’t involve sharing overly personal or uncomfortable stories.
Courtney strongly believes that, by following these guidelines, the risks associated with using humor in professional settings are minimal. The most significant risk is perhaps the audience not understanding or appreciating the joke. If this happens, CB sees it as a learning opportunity and believes it’s acceptable to acknowledge the attempt at humor, as this can lead to shared experiences and further bonding.
However, Courtney warns against the inauthentic use of humor. For instance, if someone not naturally inclined to tell jokes suddenly started every meeting with one, it might feel forced and disingenuous. The humor must feel genuine to be effective.
Nolan and Aram address the topic of self-deprecating humor and the ability to recognize one’s humorous tendencies. They jokingly challenge each other’s comedic talents, and Courtney joins in on the light-hearted banter, emphasizing that everyone has a unique sense of humor.
Courtney suggests that, rather than teaching someone to be funny, it’s more about guiding them to connect with their innate sense of humor. She believes the key lies in nurturing a strong sense of observation and curiosity.
Many comedic moments are derived from everyday experiences, and recognizing these moments can heighten one’s humor awareness. She encourages taking notes on humorous observations and sharing them with others to refine one’s comedic timing and approach.
Additionally, she emphasizes the importance of understanding how others perceive you. In the comedy world, this self-awareness translates into a comedian’s persona—a cultivated, believable, and relatable image or character that comedians adopt in their routines. This persona is rooted in authenticity; it’s a magnified version of certain aspects of the comedian’s real personality or experiences.
Drawing parallels between comedy and leadership, Courtney suggests that understanding one’s persona can significantly enhance how one leads, communicates, and connects with others. By understanding and embracing what is genuinely likable and believable about oneself, individuals can more effectively use humor in their leadership style and communication strategies.
She hints at an exercise to help individuals identify and develop their unique persona, suggesting they might delve deeper into the topic.
Moving on, the speakers delve into a fun exercise called “Persona Exercise,” which helps individuals understand and communicate their personality types, especially in negotiation settings.
It is an entertaining method to identify underlying personal qualities or “personas” that others perceive in you. The exercise revolves around participants asking each other playful and imaginative questions to deduce certain characteristics or roles that best fit the other person.
In the given dialogue, the group teases out summer jobs, movie roles, and crime drama characters they envision each other in, which leads to interesting revelations, humorous admissions, and uncanny accurate guesses.
Courtney ties back the exercise to its purpose. Recognizing one’s perceived persona can be a powerful tool in negotiation or presentation settings. By understanding and embracing these perceptions, one can align one’s approach to what feels authentic and genuine. For instance, if people see you as an ‘ideas person,’ you can play that up in your presentations or negotiations. If people view you as a ‘problem solver,’ that persona can be leaned into when offering solutions or addressing concerns.
The exercise highlights that understanding the nuances of your persona can bolster your communication, establish credibility, and even make the interaction more engaging for everyone involved.
The segment serves as an enlightening look at the power of perception, the relevance of authenticity, and the fun that can be infused into serious settings through humor.
Courtney, Aram, and Nolan delve into a wide range of topics. We invite you to share your thoughts on this highly informative podcast by emailing us at email@example.com.
Thank you for your time!
Nolan Martin : Hey everyone, thanks for joining us on the NEGOTIATEx podcast. We are continuing our conversation with Courtney Bickert, a proven organizational leader and standup comedian. If you haven't already checked out part A of this show, be sure to do that first. Let's jump on the conversation with Courtney.
NM : And I was wondering about the application during difficult negotiations and how to use the humor to kind of transform that into a more collaborative and successful endeavor. Do you have an example like that that you could share?
Courtney Bickert : Yes. Well one, [inaudible]. I love that example. He was walking into a very difficult situation. One example I have of when I used it was I was in charge of leading a strategic planning retreat for our whole business development team for, it was a five day retreat actually. And part of the mandate was we were going to have to make cuts and we were going to have to make budget cuts. And so going in, it was sort of ominous and things had been tough at the organization and there was a lot of tension and people weren't necessarily looking forward to spending five days, part of which was going to be to making really difficult decisions that had a lot of impact on the team.
And so I actually started it with, we started it with some humor and some of that first exercise, but I actually started it with the joke exercise that we will do at the end of this, which is providing people the opportunity to write and tell their own joke and making it easy by providing sample setups so that they can come up with the punchline.
And we actually started with that and what that did was it gave people the opportunity to say things that were on their mind but in a very safe way and in a funny way. And from the moment one, then we also already had some inside jokes that we could use to talk about this crummy situation, but in a joking way.
And that was really helpful and we would hang those up on the wall. We also had other jokes on the wall and people would hang those up throughout the week. And what it actually started was a trend that we could, at any time when things were getting really uncomfortable or people were starting to argue or get emotional and activated, was somebody could just say, well, did you hear the one about, or a guy walked into a bar and it would stop everything. And it was kind of an accepted, because it was part of the inside joke of the group, it was a way that we could just socially acceptably reboot and restart.
And so that was an experience where it worked really well. I think it's hard to know. It's not always, not all conflict situations obviously call for humor. And so again, not trying to force humor in a conflict situation, especially a particularly risky one, but it can in less risky situations, perhaps diffuse things. I had an example where we were going across the border from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan and we were stopped by the border guards and they wanted a bribe. We weren't allowed to give any money and we didn't want to and wouldn't have. So we were refusing the bribe, kind of pretending like I didn't understand any Russian.
And finally he was really one of the guards was so frustrated and was like, don't you have any magazines or anything? At least some magazines. Magazines with pictures. So I opened the trunk and I handed him three economists.
Aram Donigian : There's some light reading.
CB : There's some pictures. And he actually got that he'd been got and he thought it was very funny. Let us through. There are moments where it can work and it just reading the social cues.
AD : So a lot of your example externally focused as you work with teams on organizational transformation, you see the same thing work. I mean, can you point to effective leaders and managers of teams who are able to introduce humor naturally into how they direct and focus a team to accomplish things and it increases productivity, better results. I mean, does it work internally as well?
CB : Oh, it works a great deal internally, personally, I have used it in my own leadership roles and with my own teams quite a bit. The example I gave of the strategic planning, that was actually with an internal team. I worked at that organization and was part of the team, led the team, and I used it a lot in the Balkans. It's something, it's very much part of my leadership style, but I've also seen and learned a great deal from other leaders that I've seen either in consulting positions who really created a culture of humor, fun, laughter, creativity, safety. Absolutely.
And not only does it work internally, I think for organizations some aspect of it is essential because it is so important for morale, organizational and individual health, creativity. We know that retention is increased in those types of environments and it's also proven to be really effective when an organization has a fun, fun loving, humorful laughterful culture that seeps into their client relations as well. And they have a lot more success with their clients.
AD : I was just saying as you talk, I can think back to folks I worked for who again just had, whether it's a good sense of humor or again just kind of creative insights and observations, but folks who could introduce that. Well, I loved working for those folks always were people that kind of enjoyed showing up for in the morning and I was more than willing to go the extra mile when it just felt a little more lighthearted or, yeah.
CB : Absolutely. And there are studies that prove that to be true and people stay in those jobs longer, they are more productive, sales increase. So these are all proven in various studies from Stanford to Harvard to, you name it. So yeah.
AD : No, I know there is a fear about how negotiators can ensure they're striking the right balance between using humor while ensuring the negotiation remains professional and respectful. How do you respond to that fear and how do you coach folks to say, yeah, there are some risks around using humor, here's some guidelines you should just kind of be aware of.
CB : Absolutely. So of course in any professional setting, negotiation or otherwise, we have to be professional and respectful and humor and laughter by their nature are in no way unprofessional. They can be very professional, but there is obviously unprofessional humor. And so we want to avoid that at all costs. And it's pretty commonsensical. Don't make fun of somebody, don't laugh at somebody, keep it PG, stay away from racially charged, culturally charged jokes. Things that are jokes about a society or a group of people based on stereotypes or those kinds of things. So pretty common sense. Keep jokes if you're laughing at anybody, make sure it's yourself and self-deprecating humor can be very, very powerful and create a lot of empathy. And again, there it's common sense just so long as you're not sharing oddly inappropriate stories or things that are embarrassing or will make people feel uncomfortable.
So, I think in terms of humor, it's pretty common sense. What's going to go and the only real risk, if you're following those guidelines and not using mean-spirited humor or inappropriate humor, there really are few risks to it. I mean, what are the biggest risks? They're not going to get it. I mean standups, you get crickets all the time. That's part of the, so sometimes your joke falls flat and nobody gets it or didn't think it was funny. Well that's a great learning opportunity. That's why failure is so critical or comedy and or all things, this actually is to have failed and redo but better or different. And also though, let's say nobody laughs. It's okay to say, “oh, I was trying to say something funny. That in of itself is, that's opening yourself up. Then people can be like, “what was funny about that?” And then you can explain and now already you've had a shared experience.
So I don't really see a ton of risks. I think that the only other risk I can think of is when humor is used, disingenuously, when it's just really out of character. I did work with someone who was like, well, maybe I'll just start every meeting with a joke, every team meeting or all staff meeting. And I was like, no, no, good. It's not you. People would be like, what is happening? So as long as it's genuine, I don't see a lot of risks in it.
AD : Yeah. One of the things I loved about teaching via Zoom was all my students would mute their mics. And so when I told a joke, I could just laugh at my own joke to let them know it had been a joke because I wasn't sure they were going to know it was, but it was very natural. Everyone is also muted anyway, so I couldn't hear whether they're laughing. So I was, my one story from teaching, Courtney, which you may appreciate was we're talking about getting nos, how do you get past nos? And one student says, professor, how do you deal with rejection? To which I then responded, do I look like somebody who's had a lot of rejection in their life? And everyone laughed. So the student said, yes. Like I think Nolan's already said, “yes, you are somebody who has had a lot of rejection.”
NM : Oh no, I'm not going to say that. So speaking of self-deprecating humor, how do you teach and train people like us who are naturally very funny and not trained, standups to practice approaches to incorporating humor in.
AD : And Nolan, as you said, that I could see Courtney saying, oh, you guys are funny. Remember
CB : I Know you both are very funny.
AD : We all have humor. It's just different. Okay, it's different. It's just different. You're really funny.
CB : First of all, I do think both of you're very funny naturally, but I don't think it's so much about teaching people, teaching people to be funny. There are things we can do to get in touch with our own sense of humor because we all have a sense of humor. And some of that is really just a discipline of curiosity and observation because if you think about it, something funny or curious happens in your life several, multiple times every day.
And so part of just honing like anything, it's a skill, you practice. And so just becoming more observational will start to become a habit. Even take notes of things that you saw, test them out on people, talk about them, get in the habit of that. And that's one thing you can do. Another thing, and we can dive into this, I think it's really important from a humor perspective as well as a leadership perspective, is to understand how people perceive you and to use that as a starting point for how you lead in general, how you present in general can even inform how you might dress for certain things, what kind of information you provide and certainly what types of humor are going to come most naturally.
And what we call this in comedy is your persona. So you see that all successful comedians, they have a persona and, Al Franken as the ground for Jeff Foxworthy is the southern hick or whatever it might be. They all have a persona that they've adopted and it's very purposeful. And the thing that's important about a persona is that it's believable and likable and there is something genuine about it.
So, if Jeff Foxworthy were to try to be an Al Franken, that probably wouldn't be very believable. And so there are ways to get at that. And I'm not suggesting that we all become actors. Personas in our work. It's basically about understanding what's believable, likable about you and using that in your leadership and in your communication styles. So one of the exercises, and we can dive into it right now if you guys want.
AD : Yeah, let's do it. Let's do it.
CB : It’s a persona exercise. So it's very simple. I've actually, in terms of workshops, I've used this as we did it with, a large international NGO was brought, all their people together for various different teams. We used it as a speed dating kind of exercise, can be used in a lot of different ways. Also working one-on-one coaching with a leader or an executive, be used for that. But the exercise is very simple. It's basically take a couple people and give them some silly questions to ask about other people. You don't have to know each other to do this. So it can be any kinds of questions I like to use.
For instance, “Hey Aram, if Nolan had a summer job in high school or last summer, what kind of job would that have been? What did he do? It can be, Nolan, if Aram were in a movie, what kind of movie would it be if he had the starring role, what kind of role would that be? What might the movie be called? Or his character be named? If he were in a crime drama, which character would he be? Would he be the criminal, medical examiner, the cop, etc. So we can play that for a bit and then I'll talk about how we use that.
AD : Yeah. So did I get the answer to the summer job in high school?
CB : Yeah.
AD : Okay. So I don't know. I'm looking at Nolan right now and I'm thinking if he took his coat off, he'd be a great Mr. Clean. But what I was going to say, I have worked with him is he would've been that high school kid with a lawnmower, with a trailer of attachments hooked on with rakes and blowers and everything you imagine. And he'd be out there and he'd be hitting every neighbor up and down the street to pay him, pay him well and to take care of their yard and he'd have, again, everything imaginable to landscape. So.
NM : Totally funny you said that and in 06-07, I lived at Fort Hood at the time where the entire post deployed at one time. And so, there's just basically a bunch of majority women and their families at the houses. So me and my buddy literally walked up and down the street with the lawnmower. I had the can of gas sitting on the lawnmower. I had the weeded eater, I mean everything. We'd go house to house. So you nailed it.
AD : Courtney. I didn't know that either. You guys had to trust me. I didn't know that.
NM : You nailed it. So if Aram were to be a feature, I would have to say knowing Aram, that he would be probably a Wookiee in a Star Wars. The feature only about a Wookie for an hour and a half and it would be him communicating and just being the star lead of a Wookie, because he's totally a Star Wars nerd, so.
CB : What summer job might he have?
NM : Aram's a great, phenomenal teacher. and so trying to think of a role of which he would've been teaching in some sort of capacity.
CB : Maybe he was a swim teacher.
NM : Maybe, but. I don't think so. Not swimming. You're everything. I've seen you in person. Both you and I are no swimmers. It's no joke there.
AD : A lot of kids are going to drown if they're taking swim lessons from me. Either because they're not feeling well from having seen me in my swimsuit or just lack of skill. But hey, listen, if you were a film, so if Nolan was in a film, I thought he'd be Doc Brown in Back to Future, minus the hair. But Nolan always has these great ideas and I can imagine walking into his office and plugging into something, right? That happens in the movie and strum and blown out. And I could see Nolan coming up with some time machine sort of thing too. So that's who I had you pegged as.
CB : But I could see you, Aram, I do see the teacher. I could see you if I'm thinking of a TV show, I could definitely see you as one of the leading characters who is a teacher or a doctor and sort of a family drama. I could see that for sure. And I also, Nolan was thinking when summer job, I was thinking something similar. You were the kid who was the handyman kid
NM : To some extent. For sure. And going back to the crime movie. So Aram’s role for sure is, you know how there's usually the good guy, the bad guy, but then there's always the other mastermind guy that never gets uncovered until the last three minutes that really convinced the bad guy to go and he ultimately wins. I'm thinking of the Den of Thieves. That's you, Aram, the mastermind behind the scene that's orchestrating everything and then ends up just dominating everyone.
AD : I always like a good plot twist at the end, like Usual Suspects or Memento. I always like that little plot twist at the end. You're like, oh, didn't see that coming. Now, Courtney, for you, I see you as kind of this detective type, like a sleuth. I can see you in your own detective series.
CB : Okay.
NM : I can see that. I can see that.
CB : What was my summer job?
AD : Ooh, summer job. Personable. I don't know, waiting tables? My daughter's working at a, I could see that. I could see, just engage with people really caring about getting their orders and then when they don't come out, having a little chuckle about it,
CB : Right.
AD : Yes, you really did want the cheese on that burger. What are you talking about?
CB : Right. Okay. Okay. I can see that.
AD : You want some fries with that.
CB : I could see that. I like that. So what is the point of something like this? Well, it basically gives a sense of some of your superpowers that you can play off of when you're negotiating or when you are planning your presentation. So if for instance, somebody sees you as Doc Brown, the crazy scientist, that's something to play with because you could be the ideas guy in a negotiation and that would be believable.
Or if you're giving a presentation and you're sort of doing a bit of a wacky style, that would be believable. Or at the same time, if people easily see you as the fixer, the person who has all the tools and comes and fixes your lawn, and that's a powerful place to be as well. And to think about, well, they see you as a problem solver. They see you as someone who comes in and has all the tools and gets things done and gets the stuff done that you need to do.
And those are things you can play on. And the way that you present yourself and knowing that is helpful in coming to the table with those characteristics and those superpowers in mind. And similarly, if people see you as the teacher or as the go-to person. So then you can play more of that teacher role. People will come to you for advice or you can play that role in a negotiation, providing information, be the provider of information in the negotiation. And people will see that as legitimate and believable. And I can be a spy, which my whole family thinks I'm a spy, but if I can be the sleuth, that's like a fantasy. I'm one of those people. I was in London when the liquid bombs go.
NM : You left Russia the week before
CB : I left Russia, the Soviet Union a week before the coup. I mean basically that happens all the time. So my family is convinced, satisfied. But those are also being the waiter, being the waitress, that's actually something good to know. People see you as concerned with them, but you're going to also get along and be conversational. And so playing with that as I present myself to groups or teams is good to know. So that's the purpose of that exercise and I think it can be. It's also just a really fun way to get to know.
AD : Now Courtney, if our listeners wanted to reach out to you for a workshop, how do they track down Laughing Matters? How do they kind of find you?
CB : They find me. There is a website laughing-matters.com. There's also my email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org
AD : Great. We'll make sure both of those get tied in. Now I want to ask you for a final thought. You might leave with our listeners about how they might bring laughter to moments of conflict. And I also know you kind of wanted to wrap up with one more little kind of sample exercise. So dealer's choice on this one, answer the question first, then walk us through the exercise or if you want to walk us through your little exercise and then kind of give a final thought. Up to you.
CB : Okay, let's do the exercise first and we'll do final thoughts.
AD : Alright.
CB : This is drum roll. This is when we get to write and tell our own jokes. And first of all, it's really fun to write and tell your own jokes. Second of all this, as I mentioned earlier, I used it in a lot of workshops that I've done, facilitated or been part of or led, and it's a great way to get information and issues out on the table in a fun and safe way. It's also really powerful in getting your brain to start thinking. So as we go through this, even if some of the stuff we come up with isn't funny, ha-ha funny or super on the thought, you're going to see and participants in any workshop will see how it gets your brain starting to think differently and to look for the unexpected or to look for what's not so obvious or what's going to be the surprise.
So what I do in this exercise is prompt with some setups and then we throw out some punchlines. So I set you some earlier. So some of the setups for this, they're very simple. They can be anything. I was like, ‘I knew I nailed that negotiation when’, or ‘I knew I blew that negotiation when’, or ‘I was so surprised because I thought he was coming in here because he really wanted X and it turns out he just wanted Y’ or anything along those lines.
AD : Okay, well I like that last one. I hadn't thought about that last one. I thought he was coming in for a seven course meal and all he wanted was appetizers.
NM : That's good.
CB : That's really good. I was trying to think of this one earlier and I was like, I thought he was coming into something really dramatic. I thought he was coming in here to fight the whole new benefits agreement and turns out all he wanted was world peace.
NM : These are difficult. So I'm using ChatGPT. I don't know if that's allowed or not.
CB : You can make up your own. You can. Let's see what, okay, We'll go with it.
NM : So, I thought he was coming for an answer, but all he ended up was a one-way ticket to confusion vill.
CB : Okay.
NM : Thats ChatGPT .
CB : I knew I crushed that standoff when the cat blinked first. Not very. I thought it was funny..
AD : I thought I crushed that negotiation when I took a shower afterwards.
NM : As generated by ChatGPT. I knew I crushed that negotiation when they started offering me snacks to stay in chat.
CB : I like that. So we can keep that short, but you can see how that one gets the minds to start working in different ways. Two, you could see how a group would keep playing with this potentially for hours or days. You could see it coming up on the last day again. No, no, I have it. I've got it. I knew I crushed that negotiation when. So you can see how it can also easily become an inside joke. And inside jokes, by the way, are very, very powerful tools.
AD : Well, Courtney, thank you so much. Just a wonderful set here of episodes and we're so grateful for your time. Thank you for the humor you bring and thank you for how the work applies to conflict resolution. I really liked the persona piece. I liked how you framed it. It's not some artificial character we're creating. It's believable, it's likable, it's about us, it's you, it's authenticity. And then using that in our leadership, in our negotiations. So let me just say thank you so much for the insights. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today.
CB : Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me. This has been so much fun. And a couple final thoughts. One very important tip is George Carlin, when you're using humor, don't sweat the petty stuff and don't pet the sweaty stuff. But also just to remember, I wanted to point this out. Laughter when we were talking about physiology. Laughter is infectious actually. It's like yawning. So that's why you do find yourself sitting in that lecture hall laughing together with the people next to you and you have no idea at that point what you're laughing about. It's because it is infectious. So remember that and use it and I will end with Mark Twain, ‘Humor is mankind's greatest blessing.’
NM : Beautiful.
AD : Love it.
NM : Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Courtney.
CB : Thank you so much.
NM : That is it for us on today's podcast. If you haven't already, please rate review and subscribe to NEGOTIATEx podcast and we'll see you in the next episode.
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