If you are able to use humor in the workplace and like to use it to diffuse tension, shake things up or create an open and safe space for brainstorming, you may also be aware that you have a double-edged skill in your hands. Humor can be both a unifier and a divider. Three elements need to be present to ensure that your inclination for using humor is sorting positive effects.

Humor continues to be the subject of numerous studies, given its multiple forms and mixed effects.

At first glance the majority of us tend to assume that humor is “nice”. We like to have a good laugh, we enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and lots of fun, we often feel that seriousness can get too heavy and look for opportunities for happy recreation and enjoyment. Yet we also know of situations where humor can offend, create frictions, be inappropriate, or divert attention away from collaboration to only please someone’s ego.

In net, what we can say is that humor is powerful, it is a force that can unleash energies and like all sources of power and all forces it can also harm. What is its proper use in the workplace then?

We suggest to keep in mind three elements before using humor:

Being Conscious about motives, intentions and consequences. Are we using humor as a defensive mechanism to hide and protect our inner self in emotionally challenging situations? If we chose to do so, we may be able to overcome some real difficult moment, yet we may be compromising our authenticity and may create a barrier towards the outside word. Are we using humor to establish our superiority and please our ego? If we choose to do so, we may create consensus within a certain group and strengthen our charismatic image, yet we maybe alienating the support of, or offending others. Are we making fun of ourselves in order to crack through hierarchical barriers? we might create a safe space around us, but might make ourselves more vulnerable, so are we prepared to face the consequences? Do we intend to diffuse tension in a team of frustrated people? Are we using humor to shift the space, or to challenge the status quo, and encourage lateral thinking by using provocative incongruences that make people laugh, relax and think anew? Are we clear about what we are after?
Being Aware of the context. Different people and different cultures have different perceptions of what is fun and what is not and also what is sensitive. Most of us know that cracking a joke that touches values (especially religious and political) or about a broad group taken as a stereotype (“the Germans”, “women”, “lawyers”) has the potential to seriously offend. But there are also other less obvious subjects. I was once at a party with various airline pilots; they were telling each other “pilot jokes” that I did not understand; some of them actually made me feel slightly uncomfortable; and when I related one that I did understand to another friend of mine, he had a strong reaction of fear and told me the joke was in bad taste.
Taking Responsibility. If we notice (Awareness) that our impact does not correspond to our Intention (Conscious Motive), then it is time to apologize, declare our original intention, holding it loosely (not as a justification, just to share) and offer our open willingness to listen and learn.

Leading with a Smile is the Challenging Purpose of Grooa. We do not take it lightly. We are serious about it!

We intend it as encouraging an open space for a learning dialogue, as daring to challenge the status quo, confidently sharing our vulnerability and inviting others to be authentic.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Lozza

The Grooa Leading with a Smile leadership program is available in the following formats:

Three-day workshop, with pre-assessment and individual remote follow-up

Three retreats of two days each, with pre-assessment, team projects in between retreats and individual remote follow-up.

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