Humor At Work

Trying to be funny at work is risky business. Here are some rules for reducing your downside exposure.

Rule #1. Know your audience. Certain kinds of humor is appropriate for certain kinds of audiences. Whether its “black humor” shared among doctors in an operating room or a off-color joke you heard in the locker room, these jokes have limited appeal. Don’t make the mistake of retelling it to the wrong audience. Also keep an eye out for the “accidental audience” who might be sitting in the next cubicle or at the next table in the lunch room. Sometimes groups of people working in close quarters agree to “allow” a broader range of humor. This kind of “oral contract” can work only when all members of the group are in agreement. Remember, this extra latitude, however, is inappropriate (and will even feel awkward to group members) whenever a nonmember is present.

Rule #2. Test the waters. Sometimes it’s best to test the waters first to see if using humor is appropriate. Nurse (and humor writer) Patty Wooten always checks to see if a patient is in the mood to laugh with a harmless joke or quip directed at herself. For example, when delivering food to a patient on a liquid diet she invariably says: “Here is one of specialties of the house: cream of nothing soup.” If she gets a laugh, she’ll continue, if not, she won’t. Joking about yourself or the weather is good place to begin to gauge someone’s receptivity to humor.

Rule #3. Jokes aren’t the only way to make people laugh. Sick jokes can turn people’s stomach. Ethnic jokes are offensive and bathroom humor will gross people out. Don’t even think of telling these kinds of jokes in the workplace. But you can find ways to make people laugh without using jokes. Pointing out ironies, laughing about your stressful morning, or sharing a funny story about the kids are all safe places to begin. Recalling a funny scene in a movie or sitcom you recently saw is also a great way to get people laughing.

Rule #4. Know the difference between humor that heals and humor that hurts. Humor that heals brings people together, humor that hurts is divisive. Humor that heals decreases tension while humor that hurts increases it. Humor that heals is almost always enlightening (allowing you to see a problem in a new way) where as humor that hurts just seems to make the problem worse.

Let’s face it, using humor at work is always a risk, but if you follow the four rules outlined above, it’s a risk well worth .

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