5 tips for using humor in the workplace

Not every joke or pun will work to your advantage, but those that do can increase your stature

It turns out that cracking a few jokes with colleagues not only serves to lighten the mood, but also helps others listen more closely to weighty topics of conversation and can help build your professional reputation, according to a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Over the course of 8 experiments, researchers surveyed hundreds of participants on what kinds of jokes are told by their colleagues and how those jokes influence their perception of their respective colleagues' status and position. In their study, the researchers note that, "when an individual makes a comment that is funny and appropriate, others view that individual as more confident and competent and are more likely to select them as a group leader."  

Fundamentals of conducting a successful meeting

Elaborating on the study's findings for Fast Company magazine, Michael Grothaus shares tips from writer and standup comedian Joe Bor for how you can be a hit by delivering a welcoming and humorous punchline during your next meeting or presentation.

  1. Don't copy jokes from your favorite comedian

    Thinking about mimicking a joke or trying hard to tailor them to your meeting or speech? Bor says this is not a good idea, mostly because it ignores that there are so many nuances that go into a successful joke such as small gestures, quirks, and timing. What works for your favorite comedian may not work for you.

  2. Avoid crickets by practicing the joke ahead of time

    Testing your joke before delivering it in front of an audience is a must, says Bor. The best way to figure out if it will actually garner laughs is to see if you laugh when saying it aloud to yourself. 

  3. Don't feel pressured to tell the joke right away

    While it can be exciting to have a great joke in mind, trying to be amusing as soon as you enter the meeting or walk onstage can be interpreted as "trying too hard," which Grothaus compares to a nervous tick.

  4. Read audience body language

    Be sensitive to clues in your audience's body language. Are they bored and disengaged? This can be a perfect opportunity to make a comment about the setting and lighten up their mood. Or try asking them a question, which can wake them up and help them feel acknowledged and embraced.

  5. Tell a short funny story instead

After gauging your audience's mood, you might determine that a witty anecdote would be a better way to get them to smile. This can work well for people who don't yet have the self-assurance it takes to go for a true joke—with a punchline—in front of a crowd of people.

The hidden dynamics of a pun

Everyone has their hits and misses when it comes to humor at the office. It is definitely worth the try, because as Grothaus notes, "making people laugh can be a powerful tool for success" (Grothaus, Fast Company, 5/15).

Next in Today's Briefing

Many students are almost—but not quite—prepared for jobs. And that's a problem.

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague