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To Build Rapport- Laugh Together!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Well- we missed it! March 20 was International Day of Happiness. Evidently, it was created by a United Nations Resolution passed at its 118th plenary meeting on June 28, 2012, declaring March 20th of each year to be the holiday. As one might guess, the resolution was promoted by the Kingdom of Bhutan which has a Gross National Happiness Index. The resolution itself explains why happiness is important:

Recalling its resolution 65/309 of 19 July 2011, which invites Member States to pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies,

Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,
Recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and
aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of
their recognition in public policy objectives,

Recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced
approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty
eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples,

1. Decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness;

2. Invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system
and other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including
non-governmental organizations and individuals, to observe the International Day of
Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public
awareness-raising activities;

3. Requests the Secretary-General to bring the present resolution to the
attention of all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and civil
society organizations for appropriate observance.

Happiness is important for economic growth, sustainable development and well-being which can only occur if rapport and relationships exist. A recent study shows that laughing together builds rapport (which hopefully will lead to a relationship!) If we have shared a laugh with someone, we tend to be more open with that person. As with most studies, this one was performed using college students (at Oxford University in England .) As explained in Science Daily:

To investigate the role and influence of laughter in this disclosure process, Gray and his colleagues gathered 112 students from Oxford University in England, into groups of four. The students did not know one another. The groups watched a 10-minute video together, without chatting to one another. The videos differed in the amount of laughter they invoked, and the amount of positive feelings or emotions they elicited. One featured a stand-up comedy routine by Michael McIntyre, another a straightforward golf instruction video, and the third a pleasant nature excerpt from the “Jungles” episode of the BBC’s Planet Earth series. The levels of laughter and the participants’ emotional state after watching the video was then measured. Each group member also had to write a message to another participant to help them get to know each other better.

The participants who had a good laugh together shared significantly more intimate information than the groups who did not watch the comedy routine. Gray suggests this is not merely because it is a positive experience, but because of the physiology behind a good laugh. It actually triggers the release of the so-called “happy hormone” endorphin. The findings support the idea that laughter encourages people to make more intimate disclosures to strangers.

Interestingly, the person who disclosed information was seldom aware that he or she had done so. It was only the listener who realized that it had happened.

Thus, genuine laughter will help build and foster social relationships!

But, beware! Fake laughter will NOT have the same effect. In another interesting study, participants who forced the laughter did not cause the “happy hormone” endorphin to be released in the listener. As again explained in Science Daily:

A study led by Dr Carolyn McGettigan, from the Department of Psychology, recorded the brain responses of participants as they listened to the same people produce genuine laughter, caused by watching funny YouTube videos, and forced laughter. The participants, who were unaware the study was about laughter perception, demonstrated different neurological responses when they heard false laughter. This suggested that our brains not only distinguish between the two types of laughter, but attempt to work out why the fake laughter is not genuine.

“As we celebrate International Day of Happiness today, it’s fascinating to consider the way our brain is able to detect genuine happiness in other people,” said Dr McGettigan. “Our brains are very sensitive to the social and emotional significance of laughter.”

“During our study, when participants heard a laugh that was posed, they activated regions of the brain associated with mentalizing in an attempt to understand the other person’s emotional and mental state.”

“Indeed, some of the participants engaged parts of the brain that control movements and detect sensation. These individuals were more accurate at telling which of the laughs were posed, and which were real. This suggests that as listeners, ‘trying out’ how a laugh would feel if we produced it ourselves might be a useful mechanism for understanding its meaning.”

Typically, during my mediations, I use a lot of humor. Now, I know why- to build rapport if not a relationship with the participants so that I can help them settle their disputes. If I can get the party’s “happy hormone” released, then I have a better chance that the person will be open and candid about the strengths and weaknesses of the dispute and be more willing to settle. If the parties settle the dispute, then each can go back to focusing on making money (aka economic growth and sustainable development), rather than spend it and/or waste it on folks like me!

So… laughter, indeed, helps our economic growth and sustains our development!

… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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