You’ve Gotta Laugh! – Humour in the Workplace

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We laugh so often that we never stop to ask what is it for. In fact ask the question and the recipient will be waiting for the punchline (thinking it is a joke!). But in a business context what is humour for? Why do we have some of our best times when we enjoy a good laugh in a group? Are there negative aspects to humour? Why do we sometimes feel angry or hurt when in a group that are laughing at a joke – maybe at our expense?

Well, like many of the social tools we use, humour is such a part of our human interactions that we use it and react to it unconsciously. But where did it come from and where did it start?

Some scientists reckon that humour was originated to help with procreation.

Scientists have proposed a variety of evolutionary theories of humour that mostly boil down to getting an edge in the chase for a mate. American evolutionary biologist Richard D Alexander, for example, suggested in his 1986 book Ostracism and Indirect Reciprocity: the Reproductive Significance of Humour, that the point of telling jokes was to raise one’s own status, lower that of certain other individuals, and enhance social unity…..And to get laid.

In the work environment, status is important and humour is used with varying degrees of success to raise that of the joker and reduce that of the target. If you are the target of an experienced joker, you may be seething inside but will have to laugh along as you find it impossible to find enough ground to take issue. How many times have you thought up a witty riposte hours later and wished you could have used it.

Humour is sometimes used to make serious points and to communicate messages that the originator cannot or is afraid to communicate seriously. This a poor use of humour as again it may be  divisive.

Humour for social unity is one that we all enjoy because it is inclusive and non divisive whereas status driven humour may be  exclusive and divisive. Status humour about groups can include social unity as a by product but it applies to specific groups inhabited by the joker.

So use humour in the workplace to promote social unity, to release tension and create a friendly and enjoyable workplace.

Beware of humour that promotes individual status or agendas.

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