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The Last Laugh is the Best Revenge 

By Judy Carter

Schoolyard bullies, snappish bosses, prickly co-workers, nitpicky spouses, unappreciative in-laws, and so forth. If someone in your life thinks you’re fair game, help is on its way and it’s called:  humor. Seriously, take a lesson from the world of professional comics, we who deal routinely with hecklers.  

This is the world of a standup comic:  There is always some loud, imbibing biped in the audience who thinks high decibel, mean-spirited public catcall makes for a great night. The comic’s job is never to lose control of the pace or spirit of routine. By controlling ourselves – our response – we control the heckler and the audience. Our objective is to get the last laugh.

The techniques we use work in the office, in school and at home. Humor is a brilliant tool when well aimed and wielded with confidence. It not only lessens tension, it can build trust. Look at Martha Stewart’s response to Jon Stewart’s jibe:  “She could make a shiv out of a lamb chop.”  Martha could have curled up in humiliation at a jailhouse joke at her expense. Instead, she said, Jon Stewart is so cute that “I have a crush on him."  Subtext to Wall Street and Living readers: Martha is so friendly and confident that she can take a joke. Her spirit will prevail. Her brand will thrive!

Actually, they go hand-in-hand – humor and keeping control. Want the upper hand when you’re attacked? There’s often nothing sharper than wit. Most of us know someone who thinks they have a free pass to prove they’re right and we’re wrong – and what’s more, that that’s important.

“Why come in if you’re not going to be on time?”

“You call yourself a professional?”

“How could you let this happen?”

“Don’t you ever listen?”

“It looks like you’ve put on a few pounds.”

Think of some of the great sound bites of the past few years. They were often deftly tossed out to deflect an attack by denying it all credence. But say your piece funnier and who wins, in the public mind? The person who is right? No, the person who is funnier.

Consider our greatest Presidential humorist, Ronald Reagan. The Great Communicator didn’t express large ideas well – for that, we had, say Lincoln. But he could frame his ideas and rebut any challenge with lighthearted, seemingly effortless humor. That made us feel good, even if it took us off the topic.

Reagan answered attacks like this: “They say hard work never hurt anybody, but I figure why take the chance.”

You see, it’s hard to be angry and enjoy someone’s joke at the same time. No problem seemed to stick to the Teflon President. Laughing with him seems to change the shape and scale of a problem. It' s as if the national deficit shrunk in the telling of his joke.

So next time someone gives you a hard time, don’t get mad, get funny. Because when we laugh, the hostility – the problem – gets smaller if not disappears altogether!   A good snappy response might be all it takes to de-fuse an inflammatory remark.

Looking at your life as a standup comic -- you don’t have the boss from hell, you have a heckler. Humor re-directs hostility like t’ai chi shifts energy only it’s funny when the attacker slips on a banana.

What you can control is how you react to attacks. So take control!  See if you can put these three rules to use the next time someone heckles you:

Validate What They Say: Discussion is closed off, once you let someone know you heard them. Repeat back what you heard. This provides time to distance you and avoid an instinctive reaction like defensiveness or revenge. And it will give you time to think of what you really want to say.

"I see, you think I should have gone to you in the first place with this problem" or "So, you’ve noticed that I gained weight." Validating what is said does not mean that what was said is right -- only that you heard it.

"I know you are concerned about that." Your mood is kept intact, the hostility is left with the attacker, and you can walk away if you like.

Don’t Defend: You don’t want to be manipulated by other people’s insecurities and hostilities.  Usually an attack expresses someone else’s problem, their issues.  If you start to defend yourself, you may give credence to the initial contention. Defending yourself lowers your status, makes you look unconfident, gives them power to set the terms of an argument.  

Take Ronald Reagan’s famous pre-emptive comeback to concerns about his age, delivered during the 1984 Presidential debate with Walter Mondale: "I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

Don’t Get Mad, Get Funny: Do not stir the anger pot.  If you react in anger, you lose: You got caught in the other person’s energy zone. Even if they are wrong in what they’re accusing you of, they have succeeded in enticing you into combat and what’s more, they got to choose the weapon. They win because they got you angry. You are now no different from them.

The comedy spin is not for the benefit of the other person. The goal isn’t to make the other person laugh. The goal is to keep your sanity. Better to punch up your jokes than punch out your boss.

Rarely in a one-to-one will you get someone else to laugh. But you get to laugh and that’s plenty powerful. Walk away with the last laugh.  Sometimes that means to simply reiterate what you heard but greatly exaggerated and without defensiveness. Have some fun.

You have gained weight, haven’t you? Yes, and thank you for noticing that all my over night eating has finally paid off!  My anorexia is cured!

You should have come to me with this problem: Good idea. I’m going to come to you with all my problems. I’ve got this big rash… you want to see it?

You look pretty when you smile: And I’d look drop dead gorgeous when I get a promotion.

And finally when someone is just being plain inappropriate in the workplace. If you’re a woman and someone is talking to you, and looking at your chest, just say, “Hey Buddy, if they talk back you can have them!” 

Solving real problems, even tough problems, can be fun too, with the right attitude. And that’s a good thing.

Read other articles and learn more about Judy Carter.

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