A big part of practicing law and negotiation is creating and managing relationships. You need to have a good relationship with your client and ideally be able to at least work with opposing counsel. One way to start a good relationship, or improve one, is through laughter, according to a study published in the journal Human Nature.
Having a good laugh with a fellow human being can result in the other person opening up and sharing personal things about themselves, without them even realizing it, according to a study led by Alan Gray of University College London in the United Kingdom. That act of opening up is an important foundation to forming new relationships and improving social bonds. This self-disclosure may be highly sensitive or personal (religious convictions or personal fears) or superficial (favorite foods).
Gray and his colleagues gathered 112 college students who didn’t know one another and broke them into four groups. They watched a short video together, without talking to each another. The videos differed in how funny they were and the amount of positive feelings or emotions they elicited.
How much participants laughed and their emotional state after watching the video was measured. Each group member wrote a message to another to help them get to know each other better. Those who had a good laugh together shared significantly more intimate information than the other groups, according to the study.
Gray proposes this isn’t just because of a positive, shared experience, but also the physiology of laughter. It causes the release of the “happy hormone” endorphin which may encourage people to make more intimate disclosures to strangers. One of the findings was that the person who disclosed intimate information was rarely aware that he or she had done so.
Laughter may be a good ice breaker or help strengthen a relationship, but you don’t want to try too hard. According to another study discussed in Science Daily, an earlier study showed that all laughter is not created equal. There are clear differences between how our brains respond to genuine and fake laughter. When we hear forced or fake laughter not only do we know the difference but our brains try to figure out why the fake laughter is not genuine.
Whether you’re trying to improve or create a relationship with a stranger, client, co-worker or opposing counsel, genuine laughter may be a powerful and useful tool.