Humour is an adaptive defensive mechanism [1]. Used appropriately, humour lightens the mood of a tense or uncomfortable situation by emphasising the humorous aspects. In these situations, humour is useful.

Sometimes, it is not useful.

Humour may also distract. Previously, I’ve written on the importance of confronting reality. Humour can be used to disguise that reality. This deflection impedes a true understanding of the problem at hand.

Questions at this point, are useful.

One key question to ask is, “What is the crucial issue that our use of humour is distracting us from confronting?”

If you are a leader, if you have influence, power or authority in the room, or if there is psychological safety, you may be able to ask this question out loud. If you don’t have any of these things, remain curious and ask the question to yourself. Learn. Reflect. Influence where you can.

[1] Peltier, B. (2010). The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application (Second ed.). New York: Routledge. p 64