Humour can be an important tool in building a relationship with clients; it can help diffuse a situation, lighten a mood and bring a sense of companionship to a new relationship. However, if it isn’t done appropriately, humour can be destructive in a coaching setting as well. No client wants to feel made fun of or like their opinions aren’t important. Learning to use humour effectively in coaching is a skill every coach needs to develop. Occasionally a session can be quite intense and humour can help provided a needed break or chance to wind down or in some cases, provide the client with a different avenue of approach to their train of thought.
The ability to use humour effectively typically stems from the ability to read people. Some clients won’t appreciate the same type of humour (or even any at all), that others would. Also, tone is especially important so that the other person understands when something is said in a joking manner rather than a serious point, especially if the conversation is taking a serious turn. Without reading people and using appropriate tones to communicate, humour can be seen as undermining or alienating. Alternatively, humour can build bonds, address sensitive issues and encourage creativity and deeper conversation.
Humour doesn’t have to be the telling of jokes, in fact, jokes may not be all that useful in the coaching realm. Typically funny anecdotes, observations or metaphors can be far more likely to elicit clients to respond positively. That isn’t to say that occasionally a well-timed joke might not elicit the same response.
Understanding humour from the perspective of a coach may also help with relating to clients who use humour to cope or deflect. Oftentimes, people with well developed senses of humour have been cultivating them since childhood as a mechanism for dealing with school or home life trouble early on. They cope with stress or anxiety differently by cracking jokes and making light of situations. This could be crucial to a coach’s ability to relate to that client and interact in their language. It may also be helpful to learn more about them and possibly help with more serious topics they would otherwise avoid.
Coaching with a sense of humour does not make one less professional, in fact, it can open up new possibilities and make a coach more relatable. Don’t avoid the chance to learn appropriate humour techniques and practice them on family and friends to get a better sense of responses. As always, proceed cautiously to better gauge each client’s reactions to the use of humour in dialogue, but the positive outcome of these conversations may be surprising.
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