Matt Wingett looks at new research showing how different types of humour can reduce or increase classroom bullying and asks what this means for the NLPer seeking to change state in others more effectively.
We've all heard comedians talk about how they started telling jokes in the playground to make themselves popular. And in NLP, we've also been shown how making a joke can change the way someone perceives a problem.
But not just any joke will do to change behaviours or change the way you feel about something, as a recent study by Dr Claire Fox of Keele University reveals.
Dr Fox has identified four different types of humour that have very different effects on the ways that children are perceived by bullies in the playground.
The first type, which she refers to as the affiliative type of humour is a style of joking that highlights the funny side of life and makes people laugh in a general way about others, themselves and situations. This type of humour displays social competence and enhances the popularity of the joker, making his less prone to bullying.
The second style of joking is known as "self-enhancing" humour, in which stressful situations and things that cause fear are joked about. This has the effect of reducing the negative emotions - a classic technique that is used in NLP repeatedly. A good example of this type of humour is embodied in the stereotype "cheeky chirpy Cockney" who made jokes during the Blitz to get over the horror around him.
These two styles of joking show resilience and tend to make children popular. However, the third style, once called "self deprecating" but which Dr Fox cals "self defeating" does not have such a positive effect.
Self-defeating humour comes in the form of jokes that join in with the criticisms made by the bully. In a way, the bullied child is trying to be in agreement with the bully - is an attempt at rapport-building. But the problem with this style of humour is that it reinforces the negative view the bully has of the child and makes him appear weak and helpless. This leads to more bullying.
The fourth style, "aggressive" humour comes when someone continually points out the failings of others. This can be a sort of teasing - which taken to the extreme can build resentment among others, leading to social exclusion or physical bullying.
Dr Fox hopes to be able to teach children more empowering means of humour to deflect bullying. For NLPers, it's an interesting subject. Being aware of the way that your humour works is important - just telling any old joke in order to change the state of a client or colleague is not necessarily the answer. It's pitching it right. Does it make the other person feel good? Ridiculous? Does it make their problem smaller? Does it enhance their self belief or diminish it? These, too, are elements of humour for NLPers to consider!