top of page

Humor as a work skill

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (formidable lady) spoke of the time when the Russian government had bugged the US State Department, a serious breach in international diplomacy. After learning about the bugging, Secretary Albright went to her next meeting with the Russian foreign minister, wearing a bug pin.

An enormous bug pin!

The foreign minister couldn't help but smile. The energy in the room shifted. This changed the conversation entirely. How could it not? Just look at that pin 👇😬

It’s a myth that leaders need to be serious all the time to be taken seriously, say Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas who teach a humor course at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Humor is empowering. It can bring a balance between gravity and levity. We can do serious things without taking ourselves too seriously. In fact, often, we can do them better when we deploy humor, both in everyday life and at work. Humor is one of the most underappreciated assets at work. Instead of using it, we often try to hide it. In order to hide our human side. But humor is a great asset to deploy – it can defuse tension, facilitate discussion, bring people at ease, reach consensus, build relationships, motivate, inspire. Humor sells better. Studies show that adding a lighthearted line into a sales pitch makes people willing to pay nearly 20% more. It helps bonding. Laughing together makes us feel more connected. It floods our brains with the same hormones associated with love.

It's healthy. When we laugh our brains release a cocktail of hormones: endorphins (like when we exercise), dopamine (as when having sex), lowered cortisol (feeling of calmness). It's an attitude. Humor primes our brains. Priming is a psychological principle that says our brains find what we choose to look for. If we are angry we will find things to get angry about. But if we live our lives with humor in mind, we shift how we interact with the world, and in turn, how it interacts back. And the great thing about humor is that it’s a teachable skill, not an innate ability.

How to go about it - what the experts say:

Don’t look for what’s funny, just notice what’s true. For example, my personal trainer is married to a pastry chef. Her cakes are mouthwatering delicious and her shop is right next door to the gym. This arrangement is bordering on unethical if you ask me. It certainly violates health & safety ISO, doesn't it?

It’s not about you, it’s about other people. So remember to consider how your joke will make other people feel. They’re the ones that should laugh, not you.

Never punch down, that is, make fun of someone of lower status.

Check your distance. How close are you personally to what you’re making light of? For example, I can make fun of my mother but not probably not yours.


bottom of page