Humor: This Management Tool Should Be Taken Seriously

Humor is not a talent, but a criminally underrated management tool. Why is humor an indispensable component of corporate culture? How can a good joke advance your career? And what if you are simply not funny?

Charisma, focus, empathy, diligence, and stress resistance are qualities that great leaders have. While we appreciate people with a sense of humor, humor is not rated among the top ten most important leadership qualities. Humor is viewed as an endearing quality that makes work more pleasant but that is not essential. After all, we have to conduct “serious business.”

Yet the ability to make a good joke, to laugh about it and above all about oneself, is much more. Humor is one of the most underrated tools for leading people and building a strong corporate culture. It belongs in the toolkit of every leader.

Scientific studies show that appropriate humor in business has positive effects on leadership and corporate culture, as well as on the success of leaders. What exactly are these effects?

Positive effects of humor in business

Your employees become more productive and creative

Humor relaxes people. In a humorous corporate culture, employees are happier and therefore much more efficient and creative. A lenient approach to mistakes reduces fears of failure. Your employees become bolder, try out new things, and become more innovative.

Healthier and more resilient

Even if it doesn’t change the circumstances, a joke can significantly reduce stress levels and pressure. Existential concerns seem less menacing when they are viewed with a little distance and composure.

Negative effects of stress on the health of your employees are toned down.

Also, laughter releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin in our brains, which helps us build social bonds and mutual trust.

Your employees stay in the company longer

It may sound simple, but it’s true: People feel more comfortable in a humorous company and think twice before leaving this pleasant environment and looking around for a new employer.

You achieve better negotiation results

With humor, you are more likeable and can build relationships with business partners. It will be much harder for potential business partners to refuse you and it will be easier for you to convince them. Also, a joke symbolizes that you are cool and that don’t let the pressure get to you, that you are convinced you will be successful. You can strengthen your negotiating position without exercising pressure.

You seem more confident, more intelligent, and more competent

Studies show that appropriate humor heightens one’s status, self-assurance, and competence. In this regard, humor is linked with intelligence, and above all emotional intelligence.

The ability to make a really good joke is a great way of demonstrating your format and your confidence, says Alison Wood, a professor at Harvard Business School who deals with the topic of humor. After all, every joke is a risk; it may or may not work, can even backfire. You show courage when you tell a joke and take this risk, and your listeners will acknowledge this. This even applies, by the way, when the joke doesn’t really take off.

Loud laughter at a joke alone suggests increases your status. This is due to the fact that powerful, influential people are more willing to show their emotions uninhibitedly. They don’t care as much about what others think of them.

You will be respected and loved

Leaders are worried that mistakes will lessen their authority. But mistakes and weaknesses will not harm you as along as you show self-irony, can laugh openly about things. On the contrary, your reputation will improve in the eyes of your employees. Humorous leaders can achieve the extremely difficult balancing act of being respected and loved at the same time.

Some humor is not funny

Humor has to be dosed. It shouldn’t be too scarce, but you don’t want to be viewed as the “office clown” either. And of course you should refrain from making unappetizing, racist, sexist or other inappropriate jokes. Teasing employees and jokes at the expense of others – especially subordinates – should be avoided, no matter whether the person is present or not.

It is best to laugh about yourself or about your team, including yourself. Jokes about external circumstances, common “enemies” or old stories create common ground and improve the mood. This kind of humor is almost always okay, even in the most serious situations.

And what if you’re simply not funny?

Some people are funny and quick-witted spontaneously, are born comedians. Others have to take notes, write down funny episodes and incorporate cartoon drawings in their PowerPoint presentations. Both are perfectly okay; the intention is what counts.

A sense of humor is like a muscle: the more you train it, the stronger it becomes. Make a joke during small talk with colleagues; begin your daily emails with a funny remark. Try writing an unusual autoreply message when you are going on vacation.

Try to incorporate a humorous component in every presentation or meeting. For example, talk about an embarrassing mistake you once made – after the initial laughter you will have your listeners in your pocket. If your inhibitions are too big or you want to improve your abilities as a joker, improvisation and humor seminars can help you.

Don’t view humor as a talent that people have or don’t have. Take humor seriously! Humor is one of the most effective management tools and should – must – be part of leadership and corporate culture. Humor will help you create strong teams, motivate your employees, negotiate better deals, and improve your status in the eyes of others. In sum, it will make you a better, more successful leader and accelerate your career. No joke!

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