It’s called Gelotophobia…No, it’s not the fear of Italian ice cream – it’s the fear of being laughed at.
Not just that, it affects an estimated 14% of Americans!
It’s fun to laugh, but not so much fun when the joke is on you. Anyone who has been laughed at can tell you, it is harsh. When it is something accidental and stupid, it can be humiliating.
When it reflects or confirms a suspected flaw – and the laughee(?) is already laughing at themselves on the inside – it can leave scars. If someone from the outside exposes that flaw, and laughs – it leaves the person feeling being stripped, exposed, and vulnerable.
That is the stuff of naked nightmares and tense teen movie scenes. Who wouldn’t be afraid of being laughed at?
According to a recent study led by a team from the University of Zurich that involved over 73 countries, the fear of being laughed at is likely universal. It varies in intensity and people generally fall into one of two categories:
People who have an “insecurity reaction” and try to hide their fear of being laughed at from others and people who have an “avoidance” reaction and just try to avoid interactions altogether.
Those with the avoidance reaction were more likely to think that when people laughed near them they were laughing AT them.
Gelotophobia is believed to stem from shame and low self-esteem. It may be connected to early childhood experiences and traumas involving ridicule and bullying and can even be triggered by a traumatic (including bullying) event in adulthood.
Here are a few highlights from the assessment on the online research site www.gelotophobia.org:
Do you avoid social situations to avoid being laughed at or ridiculed?
Do you feel people around you bully you?
Do you worry that other people think you do not engage with them in a warm, friendly way and think you are humourless?
Do you find it hard to know what to say to people in a natural way?
Do you have low self-esteem due to your feeling incompetent in social situations?
When people are talking and laughing, can you feel your body getting tense?
Would you describe yourself as rigid rather than spontaneous?
Do you worry that other people think you are ridiculous?
After a social event, do you feel you have appeared ridiculous and worry about it?
So what does any of this have to do with negotiation? Well, a few things came to mind as I was considering this study…
The first is, obviously, be careful how you use humor in negotiation. Done correctly, it can be a wonderful ice breaker and a nice way to find common ground with the people on the other side the table. Done clumsily it can backfire in extreme ways.
Certainly any gelotophobic responses (in varying degrees, of course) could be amplified during stressful situations. Since most negotiation situations are likely to be stressful for someone at the table, try to stick to gentle, slightly self-deprecating humor – joke about your love of coffee or having to do the crossword every morning…
The second is, if you have any of the gelotphobic traits active in you, now is a great time to clear them! Negotiation situations are often a forum for tactics – and intimidation a/k/a/ bullying is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If you can’t handle being bullied, you might be in trouble!
The good news is, there are many different ways to handle phobias and fears. One of the easiest ones is Meridian Therapy (Emotional Freedom Technique, Thought Field Therapy, Energy Tapping…). You can do it on your own.
The next time you find yourself preparing for a situation like public speaking or salary negotiations and you are worried about possible ridicule (even though you know it isn’t logical to worry about that) – go through this process while tapping your Meridian points (see end of post for points)
I’m afraid to do this because _________(they will laugh at me)
I’m afraid they will laugh at me because __________(I am so nervous)
I’m so nervous because __________(I don’t do this very often – I avoid it)
I avoid doing this because__________(I’ve never done this before) or (last time I screwed it up)
This is a quick way to get to the bottom of things and can be done anywhere. Keep going until you get to the root and then keep at it until you can envision the situation without fear and worry. Then put it down for a while and check again later to see if anything more needs to be cleared.
Talking your fears out while tapping and rehearsing the situation in your mind beforehand will give you more insight into your own mindset and help you de-activate some of the potential “buttons” that could be pushed by the other party.
Here is a list of the Meridian points I use most often in my practice:
TH – Top of head
EB – inner eyebrow, on the bone
OE – outside eyebrow, on the bone
UE – under eye, on the bone
UL – just above the upper lip
CH – between chin and bottom lip
CB – collarbone
R – rib cage under the arm, parallel with chest
KC – “karate chop” point on the outside of the hand