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A Humorous Approach to Change Management

Posted on December 05, 2006

By Mary Feeley, CSP

One major trigger of Humor Deficit Disorder (H.D.D.) is the stress of constant change that organizations have to implement to survive succeed and prosper. As organizations strive to develop a strong, yet flexible infrastructure that is responsive to meet customer needs, employees will have to enhance their ability to cope with change.  This constant change can leave even the fittest fatigued. 

Here's a basic human truth that we all forget: you cannot force change.  I was facilitating a program on change skills to top sales professionals.  I brought two salesman to the front of the room for my "yogurt exercise" to prove you cannot force change.  The man who loved yogurt had to persuade the man who hated yogurt to give it a try.  After trying every master sales skill he knew, the yogurt lover failed to convince the other man.  A beautiful southern belle, herself a top producer, cam forward, and softly drawled, "Mary, I do believe I could convince him."  She spooned the yogurt on her arm, looked at her colleague and said, "Eat it."  And, he did.  The participants were on the floor laughing.  She proved that you can package anything: wrap even the punitive subject of change with humor and people will eat it.

All change evokes the emotions of fear, embarrassment, feeling stupid and lack of trust.  Do you remember the first time you experienced the latest in toilet technology...the toilet that automatically flushes?  I ran out of the cubicle screaming thinking someone was behind me.  I felt all those emotions of change.

The benefit of using humor in the change management process include:

  * Promoting a positive perspective
  * Provides a sense of control
  * Overcomes change resistance
  * Neutralizes negative emotions
  * Reduces learning defensiveness
  * Enhances information retention

The humor advantage helps cure H.D.D. to help you revive yourself, your teammates, and your organization so that you can be fit to handle the changes necessary to remain competitive and make a difference to your customers.


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Matthew E. Johnson, Ph.D.

HDD is a great concept - I hope you don't mind if I borrow it for later use. As a consultant who spends a lot of time in front of groups going through change, I do have something to offer to this conversation. Humor is a great tool, but one that is hard to wield correctly when dealing with people who are suffering from HDD due to organizational changes. Certainly at a minimum humor is a great mechanism for ice breakers and light demonstrations regarding certain concepts (i.e., the yogurt example). My only caution, based on hard lessons learned myself, is that humor must seldom if ever be perceived as directed at those going through tough changes. Use it for developing rapport and keeping things light and you will likely go far.

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