Supercommunicators: laughter to connect with others

Endless books have been written about how to “make friends and influence people,” create solid, lasting relationships, and ultimately to communicate better with others. I was recently listening to a podcast where the journalist Charles Duhigg was being interviewed, and he was discussing some stories he shared in his latest book called Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Power of Connection. He talked about some personal stories, like the types of arguments he and his wife have had and how they’ve improved on their arguing as a result of techniques he talks about in this book. But the part that really got me was when he discussed the simple act of laughter. Most of the time at a superficial level, when people see others laughing, they think they’re laughing because something is funny. But the majority of the time, people actually are not laughing because something is literally funny. They’re really laughing to build a connection with another person or to in some way “match” the emotions or sentiments of the person they are with. People who can “match” emotions (and there’s various definitions/principles around this) tend to be better communicators; those who don’t do this tend to be poorer communicators.

This reminded me of a very painful dinner that I sat through about 12 years ago. My good friend, who I was maid of honor for, wanted two of her bridesmaids and me to establish better rapport. My friend was temporarily living in New York for a year, and these two bridesmaids came to visit. She arranged for all four of us to have dinner together. We all went to high school together, yet I never clicked with her other bridesmaids. In high school, I found them boring, generic, drab, opinion-less, and humorless. I’m sure they had their judgments of me, but my “DGAF” attitude was already apparent back then. But I figured — so much time had passed since then, so why not try to give them another chance?

Well, that second chance was probably one of the most painful dinners I’ve ever had to sit through. We talked about a whole lot of meaningless nothing in between periods of extremely awkward silences, and while it may have lasted an hour or two, it felt like 10 hours of torture. Every time I shared any kind of opinion or anecdote, I was met with blank stares or straight faces. The many times I told dumb jokes or laughed, I was met with silence or shy chuckles with their hands covering their mouths. They didn’t share any interesting or insightful opinion about anything; they were exactly as boring as I remembered them to be in high school. I suppose time does not always change people.

I was triggered to remember this awful dinner because of what Duhigg was trying to say: laughter can connect people, and even if you laugh out of nowhere and the person next to you gives a little chuckle, they’re in some way communicating with you and “matching” your sentiments to build a rapport with you. Back then, it was hard to properly express why their lack of laughter bothered me so much, but after listening to this podcast about this “matching” principle, it completely makes more sense to me and how to convey why this was frustrating. Laughter isn’t just some empty thing that people do; we laugh to connect with each other. And when we don’t laugh, not only are we not connecting with those around us, but well, as Chris puts it, we’re probably just boring as fuck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.