In terms of how I use humour with a group (or with individuals in the group), I now believe that the crux point is ‘permission’. Some of that permission is in the group expressing a desire to enjoy the event. Some of that permission is gained as the course develops. Some people can be teased a little whilst others don’t respond so well to that. Again, it’s a developing relationship… where rapport is being established. Strong rapport gives you a greater latitude for play. Some people will allow a higher degree of play… whilst others may enjoy the game but not want to participate themselves.
As the trainer, I have to be able to take it too… to be teased and played with! To laugh along and tease myself. I cannot take myself particularly seriously.
On the very odd occasion, humour within the group may go beyond the boundaries, particularly with trainees who know each other (or have come to know each other). I believe it is up to the trainer to have the sensory acuity to establish where the boundary is and if the receiver (even unconsciously) feels it has been crossed. When the boundary is crossed there is a risk of psychological bullying and ridiculing.
I have seen some trainers use put downs and ridicule as a way to ‘command’ a group… to put them in their place… to show them who is boss… in a style not far removed from some school teachers I remember. Personally, I am not at all keen on this approach (though I understand that some provocative trainers may use it to great effect where an audience has signed up for this approach and have hence provided permission). I will also step in if I believe it is happening within a group I am working with.
Humour is a funny old thing. The individuals (and the group mind) will determine what the boundaries are and it is up to the trainer to be able to work (and play) within those boundaries.