Can humour make you a better boss?

Being funny is no funny business; it's a serious business

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Feb 14, 2018 11:34:40 AM UTC
Image Source: Shutterstock

Humour is essentially a comforter, reconciling us to things as they are in contrast to as they may be. - Stephen Leacock

Humour in business is considered frivolous. It dilutes the message. Business is about achievement, productivity, making money, accomplishing tangible things. Don’t we do all this by doing and learning? We as human beings learn best in moments of enjoyment, and this we from personal experience.

Thomas Wright, a professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Nevada thinks that it helps to laugh. He did extensive surveys showing that leaders who keep their sense of humour when unwanted change happens, do better at their jobs. They are seen to get along better with clients and associates, find more creative solutions to problems, and are more productive than their more serious counterparts. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.

Babies are supposed to laugh, on average, 400 times a day while people over 35 years of age only 15 times. A recent study of Gallup data for the US found that we laugh significantly less on weekdays than we do on weekends. Work is indeed a sober endeavour. If creativity, innovation and higher emotional intelligence is the need of the hour from leaders in today’s corporate world, how do we foster these right brain functions? Humour can help in accomplishing it.

The book, 'The Levity Effect' uses serious science to reveal the remarkable power of fun and humour in building a productive, engaged and loyal workforce and in-turn a more successful you. They prove through research that light-hearted leaders earn more on average than their more serious peers; entertaining workplaces breed more loyal employees and happier customers; and employees who are considered humorous are vastly more likely to get promoted especially to senior positions. They present extensive research including compelling data from the Great Place to Work® Institute's one million-member database which goes against the grain of traditional business thinking to reveal that great companies consistently earn significantly higher marks for fun.

So how does humour help leaders in business?

Building relationships: Using laughter, wisecracks and banter to get along with employees and clients helps build rapport. It is a well-known fact that if someone likes you, then that is half the battle won. Our repartee lets us get to know each other and start building genuine relationships.

Increasing the impact of presentations and speeches: Audiences remember things better from speeches when they laugh. A very important characteristic of a good presentation is humour, and it needs to deliberately inserted if it does not come naturally to the leader.

Engage meetings on a serious topic: Serious points can be a drag for people, and they can tune out or worse be alarmed if the issue at hand is critical. Combining serious points with humour, engages the listeners and you can still get over a serious message. Laughter can be used as a disarming tool. Poking fun at the things everyone is worried about lightens the mood.

Creating a happier work environment: Humour goes a long way in the workplace atmosphere. Humour can propagate positive energy in the work environment, creating harmonious organisations.

Agreed it is easier to get it wrong than right, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be naturally funny. However, allowing yourself a little leeway and opening to being childlike is a start. You could try it first in a safer environment like with family and friends. At times you may feel like you are making a fool of yourself and going against your beliefs, however part of the goal in loosening up as a leader is to have the ability to mock yourself and still be okay with it. To others, especially people who look up to you, this signals that all is well.

There are many different kinds of funny. From laugh out loud, to sarcastic, to clever to observant. Being authentic to your own style of funny further enhances your leadership brand. Usually you can tell when people are genuinely amused at your jest or if it is faked. You have been able to achieve true “Duchenne” laughter response, names after the French physician who identified it by looking at the crinkling around the eyes.

So, you see it is no more funny business it is serious business. Lightening up leads to real business results.


The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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