“Humour is the possibility of particular cognitive experiences to incite laughter and provide amusement.” – Wikipedia
Good humour, according to Grenville Kleiser, is a tonic for the mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment.
Humour can be a strong and useful tool to get ahead in the workplace. However, when used incorrectly, humour can be perceived wrongly and cause damage. So, it is an important topic of study for proper understanding of leadership and communication in a working environment.
As someone who uses a lot of humour, I am interested in what makes for an effective joke in various settings and what undermines my efforts. So, I found this research on how humour relates to status and competence really fascinating.
A good joke can go beyond simply increasing one’s capital, of course. Humour is one of the highest forms of human communication. It can serve to increase intimacy, show compassion and understanding, break tension, make the unspeakable speakable and generally bring people together in a way nothing else would with amusement.
Bitterly, Schweitzer and Brooks in their research paper “Risky Business: When Humour Increases and Decreases Status” which was published in 2017, created and explored experiments which examine the positive and negative impact of humor in business environments.
After the experiments, they were able to see how much of an impact, both successful and unsuccessful attempts at humour have on social capital. They sought to answer the following questions:
Hypothesis 1: The use of humour increases perceptions of confidence.
Hypothesis 2: The successful use of humour increases perceptions of competence.
Hypothesis 3: The successful use of humour increases status.
Hypothesis 4a: Perceptions of confidence mediate the relationship between the use of humour and status.
Hypothesis 4b: Perceptions of competence mediate the relationship between the use of humour and status.
Hypothesis 5: Appropriateness of the humour attempt will moderate the relationship between humour and competence.
Hypothesis 6: Laughter will moderate the relationship between humour and competence.
Here’s what was deduced: Firstly, when someone tells a joke and it works (it is funny and appropriate), the joke teller is seen as having higher confidence, competence and status. In addition, people like these are more likely to be considered for leadership positions. The overall positive effect of humour in the workplace would be strong if people laughed at the joke. After all, Strean (2009), pointed out that laughter makes us feel good and it is great for overall health.
Furthermore, the effect of successful humour on status was so strong that even recalling a time when co-worker told a funny joke or did something funny increased the perceived status of that co-worker.
However, humour is risky. When jokes work, it’s great for our social capital – however, when they flop, it’s bad. The researchers found that telling an inappropriate joke leads to lower perceived competence and decrease in status. However, making an inappropriate joke still leads to higher perceived confidence, even with lower status. And if the inappropriate joke makes people laugh, the damage done becomes minimal.
There are many ways humour can be effective with human beings:
Humour gets people to listen: Regular use of appropriate humour makes people more eager to read and hear what you have to say. Humour increases persuasion. Humour can aid convincing especially when messages are being passed across to people with different opinion to the speaker’s because the humour diverts their attention from immediately creating counter arguments, as they don’t feel like the message is being crammed down their throats.
Humour aids in learning: The use of humour as an academic tool has been proven to ease classroom anxiety, create a more encouraging atmosphere, as well as aid the learning process. Humour increases the likability of the speaker. A proper use of humour will ensure a favorable approach towards the speaker.
Humour heightens the sense of shared happiness: Humor releases endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals in our body, that makes us feel a natural high while being with one another.
Humour reduces status differentials: Humour can help in the reduction of the social distance between employer and employees. Fun team building or group activities are a great way to get colleagues to socialise and have great laughs together.
Humour diffuses conflict: Humour has long been seen as the great equalizer, a way to facilitate conversation and bridge differences. Actually, humour has been identified as a key factor in peacebuilding and international mediation.
Humour builds trust: Humour could bring about social benefits which include bringing about togetherness, reduction of status differentials, conflict diffusion, team and trust building among diverse groups.
Humour enhances overall brainpower: A dose of humour sets-free the chemical serotonin in human brain, aids focus, enhance objectivity and improves overall brain ability.
Humour improves decision-making: Positive moods bring about more flexible decision-making and wider search behavior and greater analytic precision.
Humour increases the probability of new ideas being accepted: Unconventional interactions can reduce the barrier for people to posit novel things.
Humour triggers new connections: Humour arouses the exact hemisphere of the brain, which subsequently sets off divergent, creative thinking which allows individuals to see broader applications, novel connections, and otherwise elusive relationships.
Humour enhances ability to solve problems: Studies have proved that merely seeing comedy films can improve creative problem solving skills. Corporate teambuilding activities are great ways to encourage natural humour and problem-solving between teammates.
Humor provides motivation: The use of humour in organizations has been aligned with improving morale among workers, creating a lively and positive organizational culture and in the process increasing motivation.
Humour reduces absenteeism: Humour tends to enhance work performance, satisfaction, team solidity, health, effectiveness, as well as minimized burnout and work withdrawal.
Humour aids employee engagement: Managers who lead with reasonable amount of humour benefit from higher levels of employee engagement and success all round.
Humour improves productivity: In one study of more than 2,500 employees, 81 percent agreed to the fact that working in a fun environment would enhance their productivity.
Humour enhances perceived leadership skills: Leaders, who lead with humour, especially in stressful or perceived one-down positions are seen as being on top of things, being in charge and in control, whether they are in fact or not.
Humour open up opportunities: Research has shown that, managers, who showcases good sense of humour are considered for more opportunities in organizations than those without a sense of humour.
Humour builds credibility: Humour users are seen as more credible and more competent.
Humour increases profit: Organization humour has been proven to go hand in hand with successful leadership, increase in profit and work compliance, a successful business culture, message and goal clarity in managerial presentations, improvement in group problem-solving, and with reduced emotional stress due to threats and role conflict at work.
There you have it! All the above are a couple of benefits of humour at work. The little time you put aside for humour may be what you need to cool off the steam and increase office productivity.