Workplace blogs
Workplace blogs

Humor That Works, Humor That Doesn’t

I often get asked, “What happens if my attempt at humor backfires?”

To which I reply, “Have you been to one of my talks?”

As a Hall of Fame international business speaker and occasional humorist, I’d be the first one to admit that sometimes my humor doesn’t work. Maybe it’s a joke, an anecdote, or a turn of a phrase that in my mind was hysterical, but from the audiences’ perspective…not so much. Maybe it was an attempt to ad-lib and riff off something an audience member says to me that, again, falls flatter than a Saskatchewan pancake. It happens. And it happens to the best of us.

Legendary talk show host Johnny Carson was masterful at recovering from jokes that fell painfully flat. Professional comedians keep an arsenal of recovery lines close at hand in the event that a  joke fails to properly deploy and the oxygen gets sucked out of the room. So if professional comedians who have studied their craft for years sometimes fall short of generating guffaws, what’s the hope for the rest of us mere mortals?bigstock-Funny-mask-9098551

Of course every attempt at humor you make in a business presentation or during a business meeting isn’t going to work. But given all the benefits of demonstrating a sense of humor at work, that shouldn’t prevent you from bringing your sense of humor along for the ride. Humor helps build relationships, it builds trust, lowers stress, sparks creativity, and creates an atmosphere that’s more conducive to open and honest communication. Don’t let a false fear of your humor bombing prevent you from sharing it! The benefits far outweigh any negatives. Remember, it’s not always about trying to be funny. In fact – DON’T try to be funny – instead, strive only to be yourself and do things in a spirit of fun.

And if you want to tilt the odds of your humor working in your favor, here are a few thoughts about humor that works, and humor that doesn’t work, in a business setting.

Humor That Works…

  • Comes from the heart, is never mean spirited, and never meant to disparage anyone.
  • Is authentic, reflecting your own style and personality. Never try to be someone you aren’t. Humor is about making real connections at work.
  • Is relevant. The more the humor is tied to the topic you are speaking on or a current issue facing your workplace, the more effective it will be. “Insider” humor – humor that only your team mates or your organization would “get” – will not only generate more laughs, it will help build a stronger sense of identity and culture.
  • Is often self-deprecating. If you laugh first and foremost at your self you take away anyone’s ability to laugh at you because you beat them to the punchline! And if you make yourself the punchline you’re certain not to offend anyone, so it really is the safest form of humor. Just be careful not to use put down humor on your self!
  • Avoids sexist, racist, religious, or political references. You’re at work, not a nightclub!
  • Laughs with people, not at people.
  • Supports creative brainstorming, rather than laughs at co-workers’ ideas.
  • Breaks barriers, doesn’t builds walls.
  • Laughs at situations that are beyond your control.

And finally, humor that works is humor that yes, sometimes really will fall flat. Because falling flat helps us stay humble and human. It helps remind us of our imperfections and reveals our true authentic selves. And that, above all else, is humor that works!

Michael Kerr is a recovering government manager, a Hall of Fame international business, and very funny (sometimes) motivational speaker. To leverage your humor advantage, check out his raved about latest book, “The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank!”
















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