How to Use Humor to Stop an Argument

There will often be moments within an argument when the opportunity presents itself for you to break the tension and avert a major fight. What you do in these moments is crucial, and humor, when used properly, can be the very best tool to redirect any argument towards resolution.


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    Understand the purpose of humor within an argument. The purpose is not to belittle or show up your opponent; if that is your aim, then this is not the article for you. The purpose is to alleviate the tension and to help both of you see the absurdities and contradictions of life in general and of the topic you're arguing about in particular. It's about helping both of you to not take yourselves so seriously, even if the topic itself is very serious. Humor is a great way to quell emotional drama or inflation of an argument beyond its original point.
    • Be sure that you're actively listening to what the other person has to say and not simply attempting to deflect their concerns with humor as a brush-off. Active listening will ensure that you can reflect their concerns back at them at the end of the argument (see below).
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    Be certain about whether or not humor is the right approach in a particular situation. Humor can alleviate a difficult situation and lighten the tension but it also has the potential to escalate the arguing if it's used in way that suggests belittling of the opponent or situation. Great care must be taken to assess this before inserting humor into the argument. There are several principle things to consider:
    • Ask yourself: "Am I arguing with someone who responds well to humor?" Not everyone appreciates a joke when tempers are flaring and for some people, humor will simply prove that they're not being taken seriously enough and could fan the flames of an argument. Use your awareness of the person to judge this aspect, as well as considering whether the humor you wish to inject is respectful of the other person.
      • However, this should also be balanced with a realization that a person who is very critical of others and yet very sensitive in return has an internal problem and you can't spend your life tiptoeing around their hyper-defensiveness. In this case, being respectful means being ready to drop the argument from your end and not being defensive if they do fail to respond calmly.
    • Ask yourself: "Is humor appropriate in this context?" Some fights are too heated or are about too sensitive a topic for humor to be appropriate and effective. Attempting to use humor in settings where your opponent feels extremely vulnerable, passionate or dogmatic can make the situation worse, since you may appear to be making light of a serious issue or putting down their passion or beliefs.
      • However, this needs to be weighed with taking care to not over-privilege "taboo" topics; if you're arguing with someone who stakes out a position of "don't touch my beliefs/opinions even though I can decimate yours", humor may be the last resort left before you end your involvement in the dispute.
    • Ask yourself: "Is this the right setting for using humor?" In certain settings, like a workplace, humor may be an inappropriate way to address conflicts. Obviously, this will depend on the context and the feel for the situation around you.
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    If you've decided that the situation is appropriate and that the other party may be amenable to your wit, stay even tempered and respectful as you find the right moment to insert humor into the conversation. Obviously, you don't want to elevate the argument into a more serious fight where humor may no longer be appropriate but if judged appropriately, humor can defuse the mounting tension and help your opponent see that arguing the toss is not going to solve the bigger issue. A big part of this is delivering your humor in a courteous and calm manner and avoiding any condescension or derision in your tone.
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    Insert humor here! There are a number of strategies that can be useful when deciding on your comment:
    • (1) Add perspective – making a joke that reminds people of the world outside the argument can lessen tempers. For example, in an argument about always forgetting to put the toilet seat down, you might throw in a comment along the lines of: "Yes, it is nice to have indoor plumbing!"
    • (2) Be self-deprecating – arguments often arise when both parties are acting stubbornly. Making a joke at your own expense shows that you don't take yourself too seriously. For example, "You know that I have trouble with complicated mechanisms that have both 'up' and 'down' settings." Even more effective is an apology coupled with self-deprecating humor, such as "I'm so sorry, it seems that missing my mid-afternoon snack has fueled my transformation into a gormless half-wit."
    • (3) Be flattering – changing your tone by saying something overly sweet might seem like you're trying to weasel out of the argument, but when done with humor it just might fly. For example, "You're so beautiful, you would make falling into the toilet look graceful... and then I bet everyone else would start doing it too."
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    Seize the gap. A well executed joke can lead to a momentary break in the argument, particularly if the other person laughs. Take advantage of the break after the joke to defuse the argument entirely. This often means apologizing or accepting the other person's point of view. Alternatively, if you cannot accept their view, respect their view by telling them that you understand their side of the argument and that while it hasn't changed your own opinion, it has given you a lot to think about and that you're prepared to take into account the things they've raised.
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    Address the underlying issues later on. The best time to sort out an argument is when those involved in it are not overly emotionally invested in the argument itself and the tempers have been extinguished. Taking the time to address the issues that caused the argument helps to avoid future arguments on the topic. It also helps to show the other person that when you use humor during an argument, it wasn't done to avoid the issue entirely but just to change the format of the discussion. This may make humor even more effective with that person in the future; for example, eventually you either remember to put the seat down or explain why you just can't learn to remember...
    • Give yourselves at least 30 minutes to calm down and perhaps even longer, depending on the urgency of resolving the issue. Take a walk, listen to or watch something funny or spend time with pets or kids.


  • If possible, make humorous comments that relate to the last thing the other person just said. Adding that context can make a joke much funnier and signals to the other person you're listening to them.
  • Sarcasm is not humor. It's the sign of someone who is pretty cranky and isn't interested in defusing the situation but wants to stomp all over it and leave their mark as "the final word".
  • Humor is a creative response to a difficult situation when it is used in arguing. When seen in this light, it is easier to see it as respectful and considerate rather than as flippant or a brush-off. It actually takes considerable talent and thought to use humor intelligently. Keep your brain fully switched on and keep your defensive emotions to one side.
  • Sometimes it isn't so much what you say as what you do. A funny face, an awkward stance, a grimace, etc. might be enough to convey humorous body language that has your opponent pausing long enough to ponder the silliness of your argument.
  • Like in many other things: with practice the results get better.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Think of a time in your relationship where you both laughed,or were very happy together about something. Think of a movie part that you both found funny and then act that part out. It will change the focal point of the argument to a good thought and will stop the escalation of the argument from becoming worse.
  • Did you know? An argument is "defused" (pacified or disarmed); it is not "diffused", which means to scatter or spread about.


  • In the heat of an argument it may be tempting to make a joke at the expense of the other person, particularly when you think they're being unreasonable. This usually only serves to make things worse because it comes across as you acting superior and attempting to put them down. Just don't do it. Instead, always remember: criticize the topic or the behavior, not the person.
  • Equally, avoid generalizations or absolutes. Saying such things as "you always" or "you never", even in a humorous context, is a generalization aimed squarely at winning rather than understanding and compromising.
  • Never disguise an insult under humor. That not only defeats the purpose but simply fuels the argument through an inability to let go of labeling.
  • As noted above, there are many times and places when humor will not work and only make things worse. Tread carefully!
  • Prior mistakes are off limits for humor. They're not funny – they're a scorecard of resentment. Avoid them.

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