Using humor in the workplace doesn’t make you an aspiring comedian; it simply indicates that you’re taking a healthy approach to your life and work.
Humor in the workplace
Humor, properly practiced, can be an expression of humility, a staking out of common ground, a release valve, and more. It’s not about telling jokes – although that’s fine if you can pull it off – but about incorporating humor into the day-to-day work environment. This is an often-overlooked facet of communicating with tact and diplomacy. While you may not feel the need to become a stand-up comedian, you shouldn’t stifle the impulse to use humor when it does arise.
Guidelines for using humor in the workplace
Like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you’ll become, and the more confident you’ll be in your ability to use humor properly. There are some guidelines for using humor in the workplace:
- Choose your moments. Be tactful about your use of humor. If you have good situational awareness, you’ll know when a joke is appropriate. A well-timed joke can relieve tension, while an ill-timed joke may only increase tension. It’s always a judgment call. Knowing if it’s an appropriate time for a joke depends on context, circumstances, and your knowledge of your workplace and your coworkers. A good rule of thumb is when in doubt, stay quiet.
- Don’t be crude or cruel. Work isn’t the place to make jokes about bodily functions or anything that may be considered racist, sexist, ageist or culturally insensitive. Humor at work should be playful and upbeat; it shouldn’t pick on people’s weaknesses, vulnerabilities, personal characteristics they can’t change (such as physical characteristics or a disability) or point out recent failures. You may ask, “Well, what’s left to joke about?” If you asked that question, you are the person who should always choose to stay quiet.
- Don’t be exclusive. Humor should be inclusive. If you’re in a group, don’t tell inside jokes, and if you’re with an individual, don’t use humor that pits him against his team. Don’t tell accounting jokes at a company function where you’re hanging out predominantly with IT people and writers. And no matter what, stay away from politics.
- Don’t be relentless. Enough is enough and too much is too much. Don’t try too hard. Don’t feel that you should share every funny thought. If people stop laughing or start rolling their eyes, you should consider cutting back on the humor.
Benefits of using humor
Humor can be a valuable tool for communicating with colleagues on a regular basis. There are some day-to-day benefits of using humor.
Sets a tone of openness
Humor can help overcome barriers between supervisors and team members. Managers can use humor (particularly self-deprecating humor) to let their team members know they’re just people like everyone else. A manager who uses humor is establishing an atmosphere of comfort and openness. This sense of humor can foster a sense of team spirit and allow employees to feel safe speaking their minds.
A manager who has a sense of humor and encourages a sense of humor in his or her team is creating a bond of shared experience and trust. And they’re also setting a tone of openness. Laughter and good humor set a tone of openness in our daily communications on the job. Long after we’ve forgotten the specifics of any given situation, we’ll hold on to the satisfaction of working in a positive environment.
Provides a way in
Humor can help provide “a way in” to sensitive or awkward topics. You can test the mood of an individual or group with a trial comment or joke – you can gauge from the reaction you get whether or not it’s safe to wade into a real discussion of the topic.
When you think of using humor in the workplace, don’t think in terms of finding opportunities to tell jokes, but rather, think in terms of giving yourself permission to approach your workday with good humor. It can be transformative.