Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How laughter, Cameron, and Clegg ruined my day

There was an interesting article on the Guardian website about the body language between David Cameron, the new British Prime Minister, and his coalition partner and political rival Nick Clegg. With Clegg now deputy to Cameron, he was clearly in the "one down" position. Much of the article was a demonstration of how their body language revealed this dominance hierarchy. I was particularly struck by one paragraph:

"One of the litmus tests of power relations is who laughs at whom. That's because laughter serves to elevate the status of the person who manages to elicit laughter, while it reduces the status of the person who does the laughing. During the press conference Clegg made a bold attempt to be amusing when he feigned hurt and pretended to be leaving. Cameron responded with a show of embarrassment, but he didn't laugh. But when Cameron made an amusing remark, Clegg cracked up. On the surface it all looked very jolly, but the underlying purpose of the levity was to sort out their status positions."

I had not known this behavioral observation. In fact, I became less Jolly when I started to think about who had laughed at my jokes, and who had broken me up. I became really chagrined when I remembered that the other day I had laughed uproariously at a joke made by the guy who was painting my house. On the other hand, the person at the supermarket deli counter never laughs at my jokes about cutting meat thin. Not only were status positions not getting sorted out, they were instead in chaos. The timing on this was bad because I was due to give remarks the next day at an event with more than two hundred people. Should I risk it and leave my jokes in? Of course, I would be too distracted by peering into the audience to see who was laughing and who was not. There was the nagging question of how to respond to the various other speakers who I was sure would make an attempt at humor. The right laugh  for the wrong person could clearly send a bad message. If only Cameron and Clegg were speaking at the event. They had this behavior signaling down pat.

Before paralysis set in, I turned quickly to a comforting article about the oil spill in the Gulf.


  1. How distressing. I'm seeing last night's dinner party in a whole new way.

  2. hello seymour, just to let you know that i'm reading and enjoying your blog (and laughing)