The power of humour and speaking to people like adults

Humour is a great way to ask people to do something without sounding like a dictator. I’d contend it’s also more likely to create the desired behaviour. Subtle humour is an adult to adult mode of communication, instruction is an adult to child communication.

No one wants to be talked down to, even children. Virgin Trains have understood this and used it effectively in their loos.

Ex's Sweater

The sign and lady’s voice makes you smile the first couple of times you see it. Yes it gets annoying, but it creates a narrative in your mind which gives you a reason to listen. You can’t help imagine yourself covered in bog-water trying to force your ex’s sweater down the toilet. She broke your heart, and now’s the time to expel essence from your life!

There are likely a few rebels and sociopaths who would use the personality instilled this request as a reason to do the opposite. But for most of us, telling people to do something with humour, is far more likely to have a positive effect, compared to simply sticking up a sign with an instruction.

The opposite end of the spectrum is a sign I remember from my days at BP – a humourless organisation. I remember it because it’s a great example of where the mindset of an engineer, has trickled down into how an organisation tries to instruct its employees.

The sign read:

‘Please be advised. Milk is in the fridge’.

I can’t find any statistics proving the effectiveness of Virgin’s quirky little sign. Perhaps someone who works there could chip in at this point? What signs have you seen that have made you smile and want to comply?

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