Why Laughter is a Potent Medicine for Listening and Learning in DEIB Programming

Karith Foster

Discussing sensitive topics like diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) can sometimes feel like roller-skating on a tightrope without a safety net or even an old mattress to catch you if you fall. Never fear, I've got some fantastic news for you: Laughter is the perfectly fitted cushion that will help us avert disaster and carnage.

Not only is laughter the best medicine, but unbeknownst to many, is the gentle and incredibly potent antidote for angst, fatigue and fear- all unintentional horrible side effects of DEIB programming. With laughter comes engagement, listening, and learning all of which promote a growth mindset. It is why I dutifully incorporate it as often and as appropriately as I can when delivering keynotes and workshops about DEIB!

Now, I bet you're thinking, "Hey, Karith, how can humor even play a role in tackling crucial issues like DEIB?" I get it! It might sound counterintuitive, but incorporating laughter in my workshops and keynotes creates a warm, open, and inclusive atmosphere that encourages participants to truly engage in meaningful conversations and foster understanding, empathy, and connection. In a perfect world, everyone would enter into a diversity initiative relaxed and at ease.

However, with it being such a personal and emotional experience, most people these days are filled with anxiety which triggers a “fight, flight or freeze” response, putting them in offensive or defensive mode. I use humor to create a neutral space where our emotional walls organically come down. This approach makes sensitive topics more approachable and facilitate better listening, learning, and engagement.

Let’s now dig a little deeper into the fascinating world of laughter, dopamine, scientific studies, and how chuckling our way through DEIB discussions can do wonders for our understanding, empathy, and - let's not forget - our overall happiness!

The Science of Laughter

Hopefully, we’ve all been there… one person starts laughing and then others do and before you know it, your smile has turned into a full-on giggle as well. A wholehearted, genuine laugh is truly contagious and brings joy to not only the person laughing but also to those around them. If laughter had a LinkedIn profile, it would say “unmatched ability to alleviate tension, bring people together, and foster a feel-good atmosphere." It is truly the MVP of human emotions! But the benefits of laughter go way beyond that. Ever wondered how a fit of laughter can transform a stressed and tense room into a relaxed and cheerful one? Well, let's dive into the amazing world of the science behind laughter.

Definition and benefits of laughter
Laughter is more than just an outward expression of humor and happiness; it's actually a complex response that involves numerous psychological and physiological processes. Laughter activates a neural network in our brain that releases chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin, which relieve stress, alleviate pain, and promote feelings of happiness and well-being. How awesome is that? And unlike chocolate, you actually burn calories instead of consuming them!

Positive psychology and laughter's impact on happiness
Positive psychology, an ever-increasing field of study, focuses on understanding human experiences and emotions that contribute to our happiness and well-being. Guess which contributor has a starring role in upleveling your positive emotions? You got it – laughter! Research shows that laughter can significantly increase our happiness levels and even improve our overall mental health. Think back to the last time you laughed, I mean really laughed. Laughed so hard you lost your breath, tears rolled down your cheek or your stomach hurt. Was your first thought, “Ick, that was awful” or was it, “OMGoodness I needed that!”? That was a rhetorical question by the way.

Laughter's relationship with dopamine and its effects on learning, memory, and retention
Everyone remembers their favorite teacher or professor. They were the ones who made class fun and entertaining. And, you likely did better in that class because you enjoyed it; you were genuinely engaged and you remembered the lessons. That rush you got from that experience was in part due to the release of dopamine. Dopamine is like that cool friend who always brings the party (or in this case, learning)! When we laugh, our brain releases dopamine, which is known as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, enhancing our mood, motivation, and concentration.

Dopamine also plays a crucial role in learning, memory, and information retention by creating a reward mechanism. Studies suggest that when we laugh, we're not just feeling good, but we're also absorbing information better and are more likely to remember it. Are we starting to see why this is so important for DEIB education?

How laughter fosters openness and understanding in DEIB trainings
As a DEIB facilitator, I bring all this fabulous science of laughter into play during my keynotes and workshops. When speaking on serious subjects like DEIB, incorporating just the right amount of humor helps create an environment where people can trade their fear and anxiety for peace and harmony which in turn fosters openness, understanding, and – thanks to our buddy dopamine – better learning! By injecting laughter into DEIB discussions, I help participants feel more comfortable tackling sensitive topics and engaging in meaningful, transformative conversations.

Laughter as a Tool for Listening and Learning

Alright, it's time to put the puzzle pieces together and see how laughter plays a starring role in helping us listen, learn, and grow, especially in the context of DEIB. In a world where communication barriers and misunderstandings exist, humor can be an absolute game-changer when it comes to breaking down walls and opening up hearts.

The role of humor in breaking down barriers and fostering connection
You know that awkward moment when you walk into a room full of strangers and the air is thick with tension? If you’ve never experienced that, then I want your autograph because you are an A-List rock star! But for the rest of us, laughter is here to save the day! Using humor in challenging situations can help break the ice (or in this case, the tension wall), allowing people to feel more connected and open to one another. With humor, we invite vulnerability and authenticity, making it easier for people to connect, empathize, and engage in dialogue.

Creating a positive and inclusive environment for DEIB discussions
Let's face it – discussing DEIB can sometimes feel daunting, especially when we're navigating a complex landscape of differing beliefs, opinions, and experiences. However, the magic of laughter allows us to cultivate a positive and inclusive environment where everyone feels welcomed and valued. These are the key components for creating a culture of inclusion and belonging.  Implementing humor not only lightens the mood but also encourages participants to become more receptive to diverse perspectives and engage in mutually respectful, open conversations.

How laughter facilitates better listening and engagement in workshops and keynotes
When we laugh, we let our guard down, and our brains get a dose of that sweet, sweet dopamine, paving the way for better listening, engagement, and understanding. Through wit and well-timed humor (not insults or mockery), I strive to create an atmosphere where participants feel at ease, making them more eager to share insights and actively engage in discussions about DEIB. This is a gamechanger with regard to the way we’ve been tackling diversity programming. It is the antithesis of a stern emotionless finger-waving lecture we’ve grown used to, and replaces that archaic modality with a novel approach, which fosters better listening, understanding, and overall communication. This is like the Vitamin B shot for helping us all learn from each other's unique experiences and perspectives.

During my keynotes and workshops, I've found that “Corporate Clean” humor has been my most potent ally when it comes to discussing DEIB topics. With well-placed jokes, relatable anecdotes, and an upbeat tone, I can create a sense of unity and rapport with my audience - which is essential to discuss sensitive subjects. When my participants laugh and feel comfortable, they're more likely to open up, share their experiences, and actively engage with the topic at hand. Humor is the much needed lantern lighting the pathway as we navigate through the uncharted terrains of DEIB together, breaking down barriers and fostering understanding, one chuckle at a time.

Tips for Incorporating More Laughter into Our Lives

Now you've seen the impact laughter can have on listening, learning, and fostering connection, especially during DEIB conversations. But don't let the fun stop there! It's time to spread the joy of laughter throughout every aspect of our lives – both at work and at home. Ready to learn how to incorporate more laughter into your daily routine? 

Importance of humor at work and at home
Laughter truly is the best medicine, and it deserves a place in every area of our lives. Cultivating a sense of humor in our personal and professional lives can improve relationships, reduce stress, and increase happiness. So, why not let laughter and humor be our guiding stars in the journey towards a happier and more fulfilling life?

  1. Practicing gratitude and appreciating the absurd: Make a conscious effort to find humor in everyday situations and appreciate life's little absurdities. Embrace the unexpected and find something to be grateful for even in the most challenging moments.
  2. Opening up to playfulness and spontaneity: Break free from the shackles of predictability and let your inner child roam free! By embracing playfulness, we can laugh more and enjoy life to its fullest.
  3. Engaging in humor and laughter in social settings and workplaces: Create opportunities for shared laughter and light-hearted moments with friends, family, and colleagues. Foster a culture of humor and warmth in both personal and professional environments.


By incorporating humor and laughter into our DEIB discussions - be it through keynotes, workshops, or everyday interactions - we create a positive, inclusive environment that fosters open, honest communication while also breaking down barriers. Laughter, supported by some pretty cool science and our buddy dopamine, allows us to absorb information better and remember it more effectively. Oh, and let's not forget the happiness and well-being that come along for the ride!

So, here's a friendly reminder to make room for laughter and humor in your life, be it at work, at home, or anywhere in between. Encourage those spontaneous chuckles and shared moments of hilarity. Trust me, your brain (and your heart) will thank you for it.

Whether you're embarking on the exciting journey of DEIB or simply looking for ways to connect with others, always remember – laughter is the ultimate tool in our arsenal to bridge gaps, create understanding, and spread a little joy along the way!

Are You Ready to Do DEIB Differently?

What Others are Saying about Karith’s Humor:

“Not only did Karith knock it out of the park, she actually inspired a new dialogue within our leadership team. Her approach to use humor, real-life situations, and frankness were so refreshing and made it safe for people to openly engage. She immediately disarms people from thinking they’re going to feel guilty for not doing more, or not saying the right thing. She encourages you to embrace NOT being perfect. People responded to her in a very real and authentic way. I’d hire Karith again over and over, she’s that good!” 
Paul Benson, CHRO
Woodward, Inc

“Building on her life’s story and experiences with delightful humor, Karith created a light and relaxed space in which hard truths about ourselves could be held without judgement. Students opened themselves to her in a profound way and received wise and loving advice in return. I intend to invite Karith back to my classes in the future and enthusiastically recommend her to other educational institutions."Amer Latif, Associate Professor
Emerson College

“Rarely do you find someone both gifted in the art of communication and compassion that even the most controversial and uncomfortable of conversations lose their edge. In place of anger and confusion, Karith masterfully brings peace, calm and resolution - not to mention the appropriate amount of humor. Her unique and powerful take on DEI is just what the world needs right now." 
Susan Scott, Founder
Fierce Conversations