I recently attended a talk about humor at work. My interest in the topic was two-fold. First, I just kicked off a new project working with a new team. There are lots of benefits that come with making hard work fun and at times even humorous. I was interested in picking up some new tidbits to either experiment with or share. Second, I wanted this to serve as stimulus for me to think about the relationship between humor and organizational culture. The audiences' questions were not mine to answer. Most were around trying to figure out how to use it: where there are cultural differences between countries, when what's humorous is so subjective, and without offending people. I'll put my two cents in here.
IMHO, humor is another form of communication that comes in play when we interact with people. When companies identify humor as a cultural value, they are communicating an expectation--or in some cases, permission--that humor is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
When we see it this way, use of humor becomes more purposeful. As with all other communication, think about how to deliver with intended impact. That includes making your intentions evident to the receiver, and getting the desired response--a smile, chuckle, laugh, or even a stronger rapport or connection. If the chances of that happening are outweighed by the chances it won't work based on what you know, then don't do it. When it misfires, address it--right away. Ok? Ok. "So a management consultant walks into a bar..."
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