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Great Communication Skills: Do’s and Don’ts of Using Humor at Work

Posted by on July 13, 2012

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Great Communication SkillsDoes humor really count as a component of “great communication skills”? After all, humor is just joking around, right? Well, it turns out that humor—or the lack of it—is a major component of one’s communication skills as a whole. In fact, an incredible 98% of CEOs would rather hire someone with a good sense of humour than someone with a more serious demeanor.*

Want to know how you can use humor in an effective and appropriate way at work? I won’t kid you…there are a lot of minefields to navigate. First, let’s make the distinction between jokes and humor:

  • Jokes usually stand alone, aren’t closely connected to the situation, and tend to follow a recognizeable format such as, “3 guys walk into a bar…”
  • Humor is pulled from the situation or environment, such as mentioning to a colleague that you’re trying to cut out carbs as you both walk into the breakroom to find a mountain of donuts and bagels someone brought in. You might say something like, “See? It’s a carb conspiracy!”

The clever and appropriate use of humor is a great way to improve communication, reduce stress, help people think creatively, reduce the fear of making mistakes, improve morale, build stronger relationships, alleviate boredom…and more! How can you make this miracle tool work for you? Let’s talk about what you should do.

Workplace Humor: Do’s

  • Incorporate humor into your everyday conversations and presentations
  • Know your audience and tailor your humor to them
  • Make your humor self-deprecating when possible
  • Fit your humor into the context of the conversation
  • Include the whole group; no “inside” references

Following these guidelines is a great place to start, but beware of pitfalls! Poor use of humor works like a poison. At best, it can fall flat and embarass you. At worst, it can offend others, create strained relationships, and even get you into legal trouble. On that note, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do.

Workplace Humor: Don’ts

  • Never make jokes about people’s appearance, sexuality, religion, socio-economic status, or ethnic heritage
  • Don’t make fun of people, only situations
  • Avoid using humor to complain about your colleagues, supervisors, team or organization
  • Never use profanity or inappropriate references
  • Be careful when using sarcastic humor: it can come off as insulting, arrogant and/or snarky

Put yourself in the place of your audience and try to imagine their reactions. I strongly suggest that you practice using humor in a safe environment—such as with family or friends—before unleashing your hilarity at work.

Used well, humor at work can change the whole atmosphere for the better. Who knows? You colleagues may soon be referring to you as “that funny guy/gal”!

* According to a survey of 737 CEOs conducted by Hodge-Cronin & Associates

Sources: Forbes, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, ScienceDaily

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