Humor is a powerful tool and one that many people want to have. A good laugh, or a workplace atmosphere that encourages light-hearted humor, can foster networking and create cohesion within a group. However, bad jokes or offensive jokes can also backfire. So when using humor, occasion matters. So, where can humor be used? How to Avoid Inappropriate Humor? After reading today’s article, I believe your sense of humor will improve a lot. This is no joke.
Many of us intuitively know that humor goes a long way. Ask your colleagues what they value most in a friend or partner, and they’ll likely answer (against other traits) a sense of humor, liking “someone who can make me laugh” or “who gets amused by my jokes” . But then ask them what they value most in leadership, and this time there may be no humor. We generally feel that humor is a secondary part of leadership.
In fact, humor is a powerful tool that some leaders use subconsciously, but many more use consciously. Our research and that of other researchers have shown that humor can influence and enhance a person’s status in a group, enhance trust among people, allow team members to form high-quality working relationships, and fundamentally shape interpersonal relationships. confidence, competence, camaraderie and clear communication.
Humor also affects some important behaviors and attitudes, which in turn affect many aspects of leadership effectiveness, such as employee job performance, job satisfaction, organizational belonging, organizational citizenship behavior, creativity, psychological safety in teams, and in the future. interaction expectations.
However, bad jokes (not funny or no one laughs) and offensive jokes (considered out of place) can damage their professional reputation by making the joker seem less intelligent and less competent. This situation can lead to a decline in status and, in extreme cases, loss of a job.
How can you use certain types of humor to be a more effective leader? How to avoid becoming a negative teaching material in the next employee training? This article provides some guidance.
Humor can boost your status
Humor not only leads to positions of authority, but also helps those in positions of authority to lead more effectively. Professors Cecily Cooper of the University of Miami, Tony Kong of the University of South Florida, and Craig Crossley of the University of Central Florida found that leaders When humor is used as an interpersonal tool, employee satisfaction is higher, resulting in higher quality communication and an increase in organizational citizenship behavior (that is, voluntary actions that contribute to organizational effectiveness). In other words, when leaders use humor, employees are more willing to take the initiative to do things outside the scope of their duties.
Why is humor so powerful? Caleb Warren of the University of Arizona and Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a study to examine what constitutes humor. They found that the effect of humor most often occurs when something is perceived as benign violation. In this study, participants were shown scenarios that presented benign situations for someone (such as a pole vaulter who successfully completed a jump) and situations that presented discomfort (a pole vaulter failed a high jump and was injured). serious injury), and a benign discomfort scenario (a pole vaulter fails the high jump but is not seriously injured). Participants laughed at a higher rate when they saw the third scene (both benign and uncomfortable) than the other two (purely benign or uncomfortable). The researchers concluded that what we find interesting is something that is disturbing but acceptable in a way that doesn’t pose too much of a sense of threat.
Because joking can damage the other person’s psychological security and may be risky, it can make people appear more confident and competent. We found in one study that whether a joke was successful or inappropriate, participants felt the person making the joke felt more confident—because the person had the guts to try it. Displaying confidence in this way can lead to higher status (provided the audience is not provided with information proving a lack of confidence). We also found that people who violated expectations and norms in appropriate ways came across as more competent and intelligent. This conclusion validates how we feel about people who are witty: we appreciate and respect their intelligence, and their prestige is thus enhanced.
However, humor can also be uncomfortable and offensive, so there are certain risks. A joke that is too inappropriate can backfire and turn off the audience. At this time, instead of thinking that the joker is smart and capable, the audience will think in their hearts, this person is so stupid, I can’t believe this guy said such a stupid thing. While people who make inappropriate jokes are still seen as confident, failure to make jokes is seen as a sign of incompetence, leading to lower status. Our research shows that leaders who fail to try humor can be very costly—even worse than serious leaders who don’t joke or have a sense of humor at all. Finding the balance between benign offense and serious offense can be difficult—even professional comedians are often criticized for overacting—and it takes skill.
When talking to others, we need to balance multiple motivations at the same time. The purpose of our conversations may be to exchange information accurately and clearly, to impress each other, to resolve conflicts, to have fun, and so on. Whether each motive is considered normal and appropriate varies from case to case. So humorous occasions are very important.
You’ve stayed at a hotel where the service was so bad that telling it to a friend at a party (the general motive for such an occasion is to have fun) is no more funny than telling that country’s border guards when you go to a foreign country (the general motive is exchanging information) is more secure. A certain joke is very effective for a certain group of people, but it may fail very badly for another group of people, or even for the same target, it may not be funny on another occasion. And, while jokes can often serve as (well-intentioned) social glue, they can backfire when viewed as thinly veiled showing off, or insults aimed at a particular group of people or ideas.
When is it okay to tell an inside joke. The joke of this kind of joke requires a certain background knowledge to understand, and outsiders cannot understand it without relevant knowledge. Inside jokes are rife—our data shows that nearly everyone has told or heard an inside joke. But how do such insider topics, especially inside jokes, affect the dynamics of communication within a group?
While lighthearted humor is often seen as a way to bring people closer together, it can also create a rift within the team and make some people feel awkward being sidelined. Of course, inside jokes also have positive effects, for example, they can show closeness and friendship, and make people feel that they belong to this circle. This kind of humor can be useful in a transactional situation where there are no other follow-up effects, and it doesn’t hurt that outsiders don’t understand the joke. But the research on this type of humor has a clear recommendation: When team cohesion is important, be careful to tell jokes that everyone can understand.
When is it okay to be sarcastic. Sarcasm is irony, so compared with direct expression, using and understanding sarcasm requires a higher level of abstract thinking, and abstract thinking helps to improve innovation ability. The downside of sarcasm is that it may cause the other party to perceive a higher level of conflict, especially when mutual trust is low. Also, because the actual meaning of the sarcastic expression is the opposite of the literal meaning, there is a risk of misunderstanding, or the other party fails to grasp the humor in the words and takes the sarcastic comment literally. The important point to note is that sarcasm can be used to spark creativity, but be gentle with new, unfamiliar colleagues, in unfamiliar settings, and in teams with shaky relationships. Before building a deep trusting relationship, it’s best to communicate with respect.
When is it okay to laugh at yourself. When John F. Kennedy was running for president, his wealthy father was accused of paying to buy him votes. Responding to the accusation at the annual Gridiron dinner in 1958, Kennedy said, “I just got a telegram from my generous dad saying, ‘Dear Jack, just buy enough votes, Don’t buy more than one. You’ll kill me if you want me to buy a landslide.'”
Self-deprecating can be an effective way to defuse negative information about yourself. Research co-authored by Brad and Maurice Schweitzer found that people who disclose negative information about themselves in a humorous manner are seen as friendlier than those who disclose such information in a serious manner , more capable. Using humor when disclosing negative information can make the information less authentic and less important. For example, the study found that job seekers expressed their limited mathematical ability in a humorous way, saying “I can do addition and subtraction, but when it comes to geometry, I can only draw lines” (the original text of draw the line is a pun, there is “can’t do “to” meaning——Translator’s Note), will appear to be more mathematically advanced than someone who gives this information seriously (“I can add and subtract, but not geometry”).
However, there are limits to using self-deprecation. Among lower-status groups, self-deprecation may have a negative effect if the trait or skill in question is central to being successful at a job. For example, it is safer for a statistician to laugh at himself about his lack of spelling ability than to say that he has insufficient statistical ability. Therefore, when it comes to core competencies, other forms of humor may work better. (There is an exception to mention: If you can only seriously disclose your lack of core abilities other than self-deprecating, and there is no other way of humor, then it is better to laugh at yourself.) In occasions that are not suitable for light humor ( such as court testimony), or when the error is so serious that a joke would appear low-grade, humorous admissions of error should also be avoided. For example, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2004, President George W. Bush showed a video of him prowling the Oval Office saying “WMDs must be there somewhere. No, not over there…maybe here?” This kind of topic is not suitable for jokes at all. The video drew harsh criticism.
When to use humor to avoid tough questions. During the second round of the 1984 U.S. presidential debate, then-incumbent Ronald Reagan was asked whether age was a hindrance to his re-election. Reagan, 73, already the oldest president in U.S. history, appeared exhausted during the first round of the debate. Faced with such a question, he replied, “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I will not exploit my opponent’s youth and inexperience for political purposes.” Audience and opponent Walter Mundell Mondale) laughed. Mundell said afterwards that he knew at that time that he had lost.
Few people enjoy being asked such pointed questions. Previous research has shown that people respond in many different ways to such questions: remain silent, lie clearly, be vague (deliberately misleading with the truth), or ask another question. Dodging questions with humor is a very useful technique in certain situations. Because humor can distract people, according to research by Madelijn Strick of Utrecht University and others. Like a good magician who blinds the audience to his tricks, a successful joke can divert our attention from a particular message. Successful humor also makes us laugh, and we’re more likely to trust others when we’re in a good mood. As mentioned earlier, interesting people are seen as smarter and more capable. Part of what made Reagan’s answer so effective was the ingenuity he displayed when he was attacked. Reagan responded with humor (although it may have been just a prepared line), showing the audience that he was still mentally sharp.
When to use humor to give negative feedback. Abraham Lincoln, annoyed at General George B. McClellan’s failure to attack General Robert E. Lee at Richmond during the American Civil War, gave McClellan Len’s letter read, “If you don’t want to use the army, then lend me the use. Sincerely, Lincoln”. Giving negative feedback with humor like this can keep the criticism in mind.
Giving negative feedback is hard, and it’s easy to take a step back, crack a joke, and lighten the day. Delivering criticism in jokes, though, may soften it. In experiments by Peter McGraw and others, participants were given humorous or serious complaints. Complaints that are humorous are more acceptable, but they are also milder and do not compel people to take action to correct the problem as serious complaints do.
Because humorous criticism weakens the feedback, it can lead to blurring of focus when problems are not obvious. If a manager jokes about a subordinate’s slump in performance, the subordinate may assume that his performance is okay, or that it’s not a big problem—otherwise why joke about it?
When to Use Humor as a Trauma Coping Mechanism. Remember the day after the 2016 presidential election? It was a happy day for Donald Trump supporters, not so much for Hillary Clinton supporters. We took the opportunity to study how humor can help people cope with negative news. The day after the election, one of the authors (Alison) and several other researchers asked people who had voted for Hillary to write something humorous or meaningful about Trump’s victory. The study found that humor-seekers in such situations felt better at the time, and they still felt better about the event when the researchers returned to visit them months later.
Humor can be a very powerful trauma coping tool, even in the most difficult situations. Leadership consultant Linda Henman found that American prisoners of war in Vietnam often used humor to deal with their difficult circumstances. Stricker and other researchers conducted studies in which participants were shown pictures showing negative situations (such as personal injuries or car accidents), followed by a laughable stimulus and a positive but not funny stimulus. Participants exposed to the funny stimulus reported fewer negative emotions than those exposed to the latter. Why is that? Still because humor can be a distraction from keeping one’s full attention on the negative message.
But another study showed that humor’s role as a coping mechanism was influenced by its type. Andrea Samson of the University of Friborg and James Gross of Stanford found that when dealing with negative news, positive and friendly humor lifted people’s mood, while negative, gloomy or Crude jokes feel even worse. It is also important to be wary of making jokes that offend someone while the negative event has not yet passed or has recently passed (“don’t rush it”).
Doesn’t have to be a professional comedian
You don’t have to be Phil Mickelson to go out golfing with the company guys. Likewise, you don’t have to be Amy Schumer, Ali Wong, or John Mulaney to use humor well in the office. Directly imitating the style of many professional comedians in the workplace may even bring risks, because professional actors want to expand the boundaries of “property”. A joke’s success depends on who, when, where and with whom it’s being told, so retelling a comedian’s jokes at work must be done with caution. But your co-workers don’t expect you to be as good (or as funny) as a professional comedian, or even to deliver prepared jokes.
Think of humor as a leadership tool, recognizing that people can be funny in a variety of ways. For example, being witty and talkative, crafting a story, writing an email smartly, and giving a presentation are all different things, each requiring different reaction times, delivery cadences, and understanding of the audience. If you’re not comfortable cracking jokes in front of a large group, or are not great at presenting them, stick to trying to use humor when you’re communicating alone. If you’re more serious in one-on-one communication, try being humorous in an email. To incorporate more humor into your work life, you have a number of options.
Workplace humor is a fine craft, and the study of it is just getting started. Researchers, including ours, are collecting data on how, when, and to what effect various types of humor are used. However, the principle of using humor must emphasize one thing: the occasion is very important. The communication dynamics of different cultures, different people, and different groups may be very different. It is difficult to grasp the elements of change, and even if you are in it, it is difficult to judge whether trying humor at this moment will get good results. Even if a joke is not funny or inappropriate, many people will politely laugh, so feedback is not reliable.
If you feel like you can’t use humor well in the workplace, or are afraid to try, that’s totally fine. Not everyone has to be funny, nor does every attempt at humor succeed, and professional comedians sometimes fail. But you can still let light-hearted humor seep into your work life in a very simple way: Appreciate the humor in others, smile more, appreciate the absurdity of life and the jokes you hear. A life devoid of humor is not only boring, it can make yourself and those around you less productive and less creative. You can greatly benefit from viewing humor not as a secondary organizational act but as a primary avenue for status advancement and professional success.