A ‘faux pas’ (from French meaning ‘false step’) is usually an accidental, or unintentional, breach of socially accepted norms, manners or etiquette. Naturally, communicating with tact and diplomacy means avoiding false steps.

As a faux pas is unintentional – a mistake or blunder, not a deliberate act of rudeness – it is often considered amusing, especially to an observer, although can be very embarrassing for the person or people involved.

For these reasons faux pas are used frequently in comedy – especially in sit-coms. Such situations can make the audience cringe, empathize with and ultimately laugh at the characters being portrayed. The more in tune you are with the rules of etiquette the more likely you are to react to the embarrassment caused to others in such situations. Conversely, if you lack knowledge or experience of socially acceptable behaviour you are less likely to get the joke. This can be particularly true across different cultures or demographics and is why comedy does not always translate or travel well.

The relationship between comedy and faux pas helps to demonstrate the importance many people put on acceptable social interactions, in a wide variety of settings. Most times people accurately determine what is tactless and what is merely a slip-up. If you commit a faux pas and you realize the other party is sensitive to the remark, and does not find it amusing, you should apologize immediately you are aware you have blundered. But since it was an accidental offense there is no need to overdo the apology.

Humour, used wisely, is a great device for relaxing emotion in relationships.

Read any on-line dating service and you’ll see that women expect men to have a good sense of humour. I doubt men ask for the same in women. (I wonder how many men go without dates because they lack a good sense of humour, or the right kind of humour.)

Curiously, humour has to do with the brain/mind being ‘surprised’ by what just happened. The brain processes information constantly and compares it with already known things in order to evaluate and act accordingly. Consequently the mind anticipates outcomes when the patterns become evident. Then comes the punch-line, the unexpected event, the surprising break in the pattern. When synapses are tickled, the mind laughs.

It also appears sense of humour is correlated with intelligence – fast processing synapses. The more sophisticated

[subtle, dry] the situation, verbal or otherwise, the more the receiver needs to be tuned into it. I hate to say it, not all of us are blessed with enough contextual or situational awareness for a really ‘wicked’ sense of humour – some stuff just goes over our heads. Conversely, intelligent people may not find ‘low-brow’ humour funny, [What’s funny about slipping on a banana peel?] and probably would be embarrassed that they actually laughed at someone else’s misfortune. (“The clearest indication of character is what people find laughable.” – Goethe)

Does having high intelligence give you a sense of humour?, or does having a sense of humour make you merely appear intelligent? But what kind of intelligence? Or as Woody Allen has said, maybe a sense of humour is just a freak of nature. (Are these serious questions? Or maybe I’m just joking with you.)

It’s one thing to be responsive to humourous situations, it’s another to generate humour. Not all of us are comics, even if we are quick to respond. You may be a quick wit, but poor at telling a good story, holding the punch-line to just the right moment.

Having a ‘good’ sense of humour is not a pre-requisite for tact and diplomacy: but awkward, rude, crude or aggressive humour can certainly undermine relationships. A finely-tuned, timely applied use of humour is known to relieve stressful situations.

So, take care of your relationships through the thoughtful use of tact and diplomacy, but not so seriously that you are no fun to be around; use humour in the work place, but be sensitive to the social sensitivities of others.

If you are interested in exploring these ideas further AFS Consulting has a program for you delivered in one-on-one coaching modality: Mastering the Art of Tact and Diplomacy. Check it out here: https://afsconsulting.ca/Coaching/Counseling/Communicate-Tact-Diplomacy/