Use Humor to Defuse Anger

by Jeff Justice, CSP

I find that women tend to be more likely to use humor in tense situations. Statistically, women live longer than men. I believe that one of the main reasons is that, generally, they are better at releasing their emotions. They seem able to laugh more easily, cry more easily. Men try to act too serious — meanwhile, women are laughing at us and living longer!

Here’s a true example of defusing anger with humor involving a female police officer. She had been called to handle a domestic disturbance. Police officers really dislike these calls because emotions are high, tempers are flaring, and the potential for violence is raised.  As she was walking up the sidewalk, she heard a man’s voice shouting angrily, and then a television crashed through a second-story window, smashing at her feet. Instead of pulling out her gun, she knocked on the door.  From inside, the same angry voice boomed, “Who is it?” And she replied, “TV repair…!”

A few tense seconds later, she heard the same voice start to laugh and soon, he opened the door.  She was able to go in and defuse the situation, willing to take her ego out of the way and do what was best for the situation.

Many times, a person’s “macho” ego blocks common sense.  Ego says, “Look, fella, I’ve got a badge here and a gun to back it up — that’s why you should open the door.”  Would that approach have helped the situation? No, it would have made it worse. Using humor in a tense situation, especially poking a little fun of yourself, means putting your own ego aside and doing what’s best for the situation.

What do you want — I mean really want — in a tense situation? Do you want to be proven right or do you want a right outcome? Humor can become the spoonful of sugar when the prescription calls for unpleasant medicine. If the patient still has to swallow the yucky stuff, find a way to make it go down easier. What do you really want, just compliance or real cooperation? Whether you are the doctor or the patient, humor helps the medicine go down in a most delightful way.

If you found these tips from Jeff Justice, CSP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at


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