Humor comes in a wild variety including slapstick, highbrow wit, insider humor, outsider humor, and, of course, scatological humor. You may find yourself doubled over in laughter at a joke that your colleagues find unamusing or inappropriate. Alternatively, you may be the offended party that can’t believe they are all laughing at something so demeaning. Using humor at work can be a twisty trick. With that in mind, I’m offering up a handful of tips to help guide your use of humor at work and in the world in a way that lets everyone in on the joke and doesn’t leave you the last comic standing.

Observe Your Own Behavior/ Identify Your Motivations

Whether you’re the jokester or the audience, press pause at the end of an interaction and reflect. How did you engage? Were you trying to impress, distract or demonstrate power? Was your laughter authentic or were you playing along because your manager was telling the jokes? How did you feel at the end of the interaction? Light and buoyant? Heavy and bothered? This first step will help you to be intentional moving forward.

Understand Your Audience

As the comic-of-the-moment, knowing who you’re talking to is of vital importance. If an audience is made up of your direct reports, be cognizant of that fact. They are more likely to give you the response you’re looking for because you outrank them. Take that into consideration as you regale them with your “hysterical” weekend exploits. As a junior team member, carefully consider whether clients or supervisors will not only enjoy your witty quips but whether those bon mots will serve you professionally. (The same approach applies if you’re meeting new friends, your potential in-laws, or your sister’s new boyfriend.)

Optimize, Optimize, Optimize

Use your newfound insights to continually refine the way you use humor. A little side-eye from your supervisor in response to your scatological reference should trigger a change in your behavior. A grateful comment about how you saved a stressful meeting with your sharp (and very funny) observation gives you the green light to keep using that tactic.

Humor should bring us together in a positive and engaging way. Keep refining your skills to deliver a dose of endorphins, an unexpected perspective, cut through the stress, and create a better environment both at work and in the world.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson



P.S. Here’s another way we’ve addressed humor in the Lingo-ist: When Laughter isn’t the Best Medicine. You also might take a look at How to Use Humor in The Workplaceand How Humor Can Help Your Be a Better Leader.

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