Nonstandard Techniques: Using Humor to Get Results

Humor and laughter can be excellent additions to the daily grind. When people share a laugh, they begin to feel less formal and more comfortable with one another. Associating the positive feeling of laughter or happiness with the workplace has the added benefit of making a job or task enjoyable. But how to introduce humor? Should you, as the leader, set up a microphone and perform a stand-up comedy routine each Monday morning? Probably not. Remember, you want your staff to laugh with you, not at you. One way to bring humor into the workplace is to set an example by sharing some personal anecdotes with your employees. For example, chat with an employee about something funny your pet did.

Tip: Although a few "You won't believe what I did" anecdotes can be helpful, avoid ridiculing yourself too much when communicating with your employees. Letting them know you're human is good; letting them know you're too human could erode your power base.

Boundaries

Over the weekend a buddy recounted an incredibly humorous but sexual joke to you on the golf course. You spent the rest of the weekend passing the joke on to more friends. However, stop and think before sharing the joke with your subordinates, and even your equals and superiors. Although humor is welcome in most settings, the workplace is not the place to share certain comic material. A good way to test whether something is acceptable is to imagine telling the same joke to a group of children. Would it be appropriate? That's not to say employees are children, but often the same subjects that are taboo to raise with children are also taboo in the workplace.

Here's a list of topics to avoid in the workplace:

  • Sexually explicit material

  • Jokes dealing with gender or sexual orientation

  • Ethnic or racial humor

  • Religious humor

The 1980s and 1990s saw a huge rise in awareness of sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion. Although a joke may seem harmless to you, it could be incredibly offensive to someone else.

Humorous E-Mail

The age of the Internet has brought with it a whole new humor outlet. On any given day, I probably get 10 to 15 humorous e-mails. Although these messages are often funny, it is best to avoid passing them along to your employees in most cases. Many companies are penalizing employees for using e-mail systems for personal purposes. Forwarding humorous e-mail to your staff could be seen as setting a bad example.