Winston Churchill famously said, “Humor is a very serious thing.” Nowhere more so than in the workplace where it can be really tricky. For what one person finds funny may not seem a laughable matter to another. Continued research shows that humor is a powerful tool that can help build a stronger, more effective and fun-to-be workplace. Teams tend to communicate better and work better together when they tell jokes and laugh with each other. A study by the McClelland Centre for Research and Innovation found that outstanding executives use humor more than twice - 237% more - as often as the so-called average executives.
But the very nature of humor leads to it being misunderstood more often than not, making it the proverbial double-edged sword. You can end up slicing through tough situations at work or may end up cutting yourself. Try these six tips to make humor work for you at the workplace:
#1 There’s a place for humorYour attempts at lightening the environment may fall flat if you don’t choose the right time and place. Choose carefully. A workshop, demo or informal presentation could work, but an extremely formal atmosphere may not. Humor is about having fun, but you need to make sure everyone else is on the same page.#2 Recognize your audienceHumor is subjective so it’s vital to know what works and what doesn’t with different teams and people. Dan Nainan, a former Intel engineer turned professional standup comic, believes people have “all different levels of senses of humor,” making it important to tailor your funnies to your audience. If you think something would get laughs at a college/dorm party, it’s not appropriate for the workplace.#3 Don’t try too hardIf you are force fitting your jokes, it’s not funny. Bob Kulhan, a New York-based professional comedic improviser, believes humor and business mix best when the laughs come from a spontaneous response. “Humor in the workplace is not about forcing the funny. It's about letting the funny happen and then taking advantage of it when it does,” he has said. #4 Laugh with others, not at themHumor has the power to bond people, but very often it can also ostracize. Using humor to mock, undermine, attack, intimidate or belittle isn’t funny. Ensuring that your brand of humor is positive and inclusive will create a supportive environment that appeals to everyone. Laughing with others creates a feel-good atmosphere, laughing at them simply alienates. #5 Let the joke be on youSmart workers – and leaders – know that they’re the best punchline for their jokes. Reserve your flippancy for your experiences, failures and challengers; you’ll be able to make others laugh and also teach them some life lessons. #6 Retain your professionalismIt’s good to be humorous but overdoing it doesn’t work so well. Remember how Michael Scott from The Office often ended up looking silly when he played the fool once too often. Stay work-appropriate if you don’t want to be seen as acting immature or a clown. Keeping your humor on the conservative side will ensure more laughs than offence. Good humor can bring people closer, but poor humor can lead to alienation and anger. Sexist, racist, ageist or any other discriminating jokes are unacceptable – no matter what kind of funny garb you cloak them in. Use humor to make employees and co-workers feel more comfortable and see the difference it makes to your office set-up.