Thursday, March 10, 2011

Have Tough Information to Share? Think About Telling a Good Joke

The secret to telling a good joke is in the delivery and the timing. The same can be said for many of the most challenging things we need to communicate. Whether it’s giving feedback, describing a
problem behavior, or telling someone they’ve hurt you, all of these uncomfortable conversations walk the fine line between offering helpful advice, and giving hurtful criticism. The easiest way to control how your message is received is to plan the right delivery.

Begin by setting the stage
Before a comedian begins his routine, he makes sure you’re seated, ready to listen, and hopefully in a good mood (thank you warm-up act). Staging is needed for difficult conversations as well. Rather than ambush the message recipient, make an appointment with him/her to talk, and give the gist of what you want to talk about. You might say, “Bob, I’d like to talk to you about that project that’s behind schedule, when do you have time this week to meet?” This allows the other person to be in the right mental state when you do sit down to meet, and keeps them (or you) from being caught off guard by an impromptu discussion.

Have the right intentions
A comedian wants you to laugh and have a good time – but that doesn’t keep him from saying things that may cross the line. When delivering difficult information, make sure your intentions are pure and are kind. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Believe s/he didn’t intend a problem, or know what they did was hurtful. Have the mindset that your purpose is to build their awareness or help them to change.

Tell the story
A comedian doesn’t start with the punch-line, he builds up to it. By telling a story, he helps you to see things from his perspective, and therefore creates a stronger impact. The same is true when giving difficult information or feedback. Don’t drop it like a bomb and expect a favorable response. Similarly, don’t expect the other person to talk first. Do you laugh before you hear the joke? You are bringing the problem forward, so it is your responsibility to explain it to the other person. Tell the story. Explain the problem with your observations and from your point of view. Help the other person come alongside you and recognize why you are bringing this to their attention.

Wait for the response
Have you ever noticed how a comedian pauses to give the audience a chance to laugh? In giving difficult news, you should expect a response from the listener. Welcome it. Ask for it. Pause for it. Until the other person responds, you won’t know if the message was understood or accepted.

Delivering difficult information is never funny - however it can be productive, even positive, if you handle it like a pro.