Laughter for a Better Workplace

Sheri CoburnWorkplace Culture0 Comments

Laughter ought to be considered an essential workplace skill. We value it so highly at our office that we ask all interviewees, “When will we hear you laugh?” If they can’t answer that question, we start to get concerned.

I have a painfully dull laugh. In fact, often when I find something really funny, instead of laughing, I will say something like “Oh man, that is funny.” I am not rolling on the floor in gleeful hysterics or spreading a contagious belly laugh to those around me, but I truly mean what I am saying.

The good news: despite this self-identified laughing deficit, I possess and have fostered a skill that seems like a fair trade-off. I am really funny. No, really, I am. I love to use all sorts of humour in all sorts of environments. I love sarcasm and dry humour; I love harmless practical jokes; I love storytelling with obvious exaggeration. And I love making people laugh, and listening to people laugh.

More important than knowing I am funny? I strongly believe that ALL of the successes I have had in my life—great friends, fulfilling family relationships, positive working environments, scholastic and career achievements—have been directly influenced by my willingness to infuse and embrace humour whenever possible.

Obviously, being funny is only part of the equation of successful workplace humour. The who, what, where, when, how, and why of humour is critical.

  • Know who your audience is.
  • Choose what style of humour to use.
  • Identify where humour is appropriate.
  • Assess when to be funny.
  • Make an educated guess on how your use of humour will be interpreted by this audience, at this time, in this context.
  • Ask and be able to answer: Why humour? Why now?

The use of humour in the workplace is not necessarily a natural ability. It requires a genuine nod to the importance of humour and laughter in a working environment, a willingness to practice and take risks, an openness to laughing out loud (even in my case), and the ability to bounce back (apologize if necessary) and try again if your efforts fall flat. This takes time, practice, and the risk of being vulnerable to the occasional misstep.

Here are my suggestions for increasing your use of humour at work:

Assess

  • Do you acknowledge the importance of humour and laughter in the workplace for an increased sense of health and well-being?
  • Have you lost your sense of humour under increasing workplace pressures and expectations?
  • Is your lack of humour or unwillingness to find laughter in your work life negatively influencing the relationship-building that is essential to effective working relationships?
  • Do you hold the false belief that using humour and finding reasons to laugh in the workplace is unprofessional?
  • Would people at work describe you as “having a good sense of humour”?

Practice

  • Tell a personal story of something humorous that has happened to you.
  • Bring in a funny article or story and chat about it.
  • Laugh out loud when you find something funny.
  • Make a conscious effort to connect with people using humour and reward people with your laughter when their efforts for humour are successful.
  • If you are funny in your personal life, introduce that piece of yourself into your work life.
  • Use opportunities like April Fool’s Day to introduce or solidify openness to humour in the workplace.

Feedback

Check in with someone you trust to:

  • Assess if your use of humour in the workplace is appropriate and timely (some different standards and adjustments may be needed between personal and workplace humour).
  • Find out if people find you funny or see you as having positive energy around humour.
  • See if people feel comfortable being “fun” around you.
  • Ask them the last time they remember you laughing or using humour while at work.

We all love well-placed humour. Break out of your comfort zone and have some fun. Any ideas?

Sheri Coburn,
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance

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