The power of bloopers
If hours of youtube bloopers and blunders videos are to be believed, it appears that humans love to take great delight in others’ misfortune. We love a good laugh at someone else’s expense; usually secretly glad it’s not us. Most people try to avoid mistakes and looking silly, particularly in a professional setting, as they fear it will detract from their reputation and, on a deeper level, cause shame and embarrassment. However, contrary to what our primitive brains tell us, the very thing we fear (looking foolish or vulnerable) could be the very thing that makes us more relatable, more human and more likeable. It can actually work FOR us, not against us. (Caveat: If you are genuinely crap at your job and you are constantly making mistakes, then sure… you should be worried, and it is working against you! Get a different job, or get better!)
When we slip up we allow ourselves to be seen as human; we come out from behind our professional selves - the Director, or the Expert, or the Head of Department X. This humanity and fallibility automatically shifts the power dynamics and creates a more human landscape. We let people in. We become more real.
Let’s face it, everyone makes mistakes. It doesn't matter how smart you are, how hard you try or how much you know – everyone gets caught out at some point. You could be wearing odd socks while giving a presentation, or say the wrong thing at a meeting, or have your kids come sauntering into your home office while you’re ‘live’ broadcasting to a whole nation like our friend from the BBC interview (simply google ‘BBC interview kids walk in’ to watch the clip). The good news is that the more we see you as human, the more we like you. The more we like you, the more we value you. This is why small bloopers, bungles and embarrassing mishaps can be good for business (but if they are big bungles, that’s another story - that’s bad for business… but you already know that!)
This is a psychological phenomenon I teach my clients about all the time; the Pratfall Effect. (A pratfall is an embarrassing failure or mistake). The Pratfall effect teaches us that people who are considered highly competent are more likeable when they make normal human blunders than when they are constantly flawless. It seems that we want to relate to real people, not perfect people, as it makes us feel more normal when high performing people stuff up occasionally. Oh, and by the way, it doesn’t work if you are ordinary or mediocre at your job. Then any blunders just reinforce our perception that you are, in fact, ordinary! Eeek!
It’s a powerful strategy you can use to purposefully put others at ease, and reduce the power differential between you; especially if you think that people hold you in high regard. For example, a new boss can trip over their words in their opening team meeting speech, and make light of their gaff. People laugh, people relax, the power differential reduces and the team leans in. Good strategy.
So next time you’re making a speech and forget your lines or greet your team with ‘Happy Wednesday’ on a Tuesday, (which I do a lot) or have a leaf stuck in your hair without knowing it, don’t worry about it. Laugh, move on and enjoy the deepening of your connection with those who witnessed your natural, normal, delightful human-ness.
PS: If you want to see some likeable human-ness in action, watch Marty Wilson’s video blogs. He’s a keynote speaker on resilience and change (and a former Australian Comedian of the year incidentally) and usually treats us to some behind the scenes bloopers at the end of each recording. It’s a delight to witness and I’ve included one of my favourites below. It’s complete with blowing raspberries at the camera, roaring like a tiger (yes, you read that right!) and double takes – so likeable! ;)
PPS: Jacky Chan, the martial arts phenomenon, follows a similar formula with his movies (only it looks much more painful!). At the end of each of his movies, we are usually treated to a series of bloopers when his stunts go wrong. Ouch!!