Article: The humor advantage - Take yourself lightly, your work seriously


The humor advantage - Take yourself lightly, your work seriously

I don't trust anyone who doesn't laugh. - Maya Angelou
The humor advantage - Take yourself lightly, your work seriously

Do the names Dilbert, Garfield, RK Laxman, Shankar make you smile, chuckle? If yes, congratulations! You are endowed with Humour! and could look forward to using it for positive outcomes. This article presents the journey of humor from medical field/ medical practitioners to organizations/leaders. The benefits of humor are outlined and ways in which it can be developed to get positive returns is presented.

Humour Decoded: Simply stated, humor is a type of communication, something said or done, that elicits a smile, chuckle, laughter or just lightens the environment. The use of humor or rather inducing humor for positive purposes was in the field of Dentistry. In order to reduce pain during dental surgery, patients were made to inhale Nitrogen Oxide, commonly called Laughing Gas. Laughter and merry making is said to produce hormones that stimulate the release of hormones that in turn release endorphins into the brain. Endorphins are natural painkillers. Much later, Norman Cousin, an American political journalist, professor, and world peace advocate, put humor in the spotlight. Cousin recovered from debilitating disease by merely watching a series of funny videos and comical movies. He then went on to capture his experiences in the book Anatomy of an illness as perceived by the patient: Reflections on healing and regeneration. Many such experiences with laughter has made Humour a serious business.

Humor in organizations

Leadership Competency: Scholars have begun to identify humor disposition as a personality trait. In the area of business, leaders’ sense of humor is being identified as an important skill in influencing people, be it customers, team, or friends, detractors.  In addition, with increasing number of youngsters in the workforce, Humour is one of the tools that leaders can use to engage with them instantly. Hence, it needs to be treated as a part of Effective Communication competency. When used during the process of team building, humor builds trust, respect and mutual obligation and there by common goals. Conversely, when the relationship has nosedived the team is unlikely to appreciate leaders’ humor; it may be viewed as unnecessary, and a waste of time.

Group Bonding: Griping over increasing workload, boredom in a humorous way allows them to laugh together, build commonalities and lighten the atmosphere and helps them to bounce back. Guy Kawasaki, the American marketing specialist said, “There are only two kinds of companies, those that recognize that they’re just like Dilbert, and those that don’t know it yet.” Dilbert’s creator, Adam Scott has been a great hit among the corporate for portraying several organizational issues such as downsizing, targets, micro management, management jargons and fads, annoying colleagues and so forth. Although these matters are dealt with sardonic humor, it makes the office goers feel that they are not the only one to face these issues.

Appropriate and Inappropriate use of humor

Humor is used for positive outcomes as in the following instances: 

  • Develop cohesiveness among the team

  • Build rapport with new members

  • Tone down grim messages

  • Introduce a difficult topic

  • Admit ones’ mistakes/failures

  • Refresh, relief from boredom

  • Coping with unpleasant incidents

  • Lighten the environment to generate unconventional ideas 

Humour is also used in a manner that yields negative outcomes as in the case to mock, belittle others’ efforts, to criticize, to vilify, to vindicate, draw attention to self and to establish one’s superiority. Thus, functionally speaking, humor can either facilitate and fortify relationships, job satisfaction and performance or debilitate and drain the work environment. 

Enhancing one’s sense of humor

People who declare that they do not have a sense humor can draw solace from the fact that humans smiled, giggled and laughed much before they learned to speak. It seems like humor is also a developmental task. Therefore, sense of humor can be enhanced at any point of time in life. Here are three simple steps that will help reboot the humor in you- 

Educate: To begin with, read and understand the evolution of humor, types of humor (one- liners, word play, puns, Read humor magazines, cartoons, quotes, speeches of good speakers, films and identify the different types of humor used in them.

Act: Become a member of a humor club/society or clown clubs. Learning and practicing together is far more effective than going solo. The like-minded group can help in providing feedback and ideas to improvise before one hits the floor.

Like: Though stated as the last step, this is primary- One should like to be with and listen & talk to people. This also means that the person needs to enjoy diversity and not show special affiliation to certain groups. A liking for people ensures that you initiate conversations, respond to others, and thereby get an opportunity to apply all that was read and practiced.

Finally, even in the most serious business, humor can bring a smile to a stoic face. Try this-

A debt collector sent out a letter reading, “We appreciate your business, but, please, give us a break.  Your account is overdue 10 months.  That means we’ve carried you longer than your mother did.”


Don't forget to laugh

Nitrous Oxide

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the company.

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Topics: Leadership, Life @ Work

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