- My Brother and the Unconventional Power of Humor at Work
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June 6, 2023

Imagine a group of professionals huddled in a conference room, engrossed in a brainstorming session. A burst of laughter fills the air amidst the serious discussions and intense focus. Eyes light up, tensions dissolve, and a renewed energy permeates the room. In that moment, something magical happens! Humor, often dismissed as frivolous; is a real catalyst for cohesion, creativity, and collaboration in the workplace.

In high school, I worked in my family's construction business, and despite the hard work and often unfavorable weather conditions, most days, I was excited to go. Why? Because my brother, Bill, was great to work for. Not because of the typical characteristics we ascribe to great leaders but because he perfectly balanced focus on work with humor. Each week was sure to have several practical jokes woven into the daily grind. It broke up the mundane and kept us light and focused. 

As an executive coach, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative effects of humor in business. Creating alignment within a team is like navigating a labyrinth of personalities, objectives, and perspectives. Yet, amid this maze, humor emerges as a secret weapon that bridges gaps and cultivates shared understanding. A well-placed joke, a clever pun, or a shared laugh can dissolve barriers, humanize interactions, and build trust among team members.

Tom Clark, who I recently wrote about, was another leader who practiced using humor at work, and he was BELOVED for it. Named as the Denver Post's 2012 Business Person of the Year, it wasn't unusual to find Tom kicking off a speech or announcement by playing the guitar and singing a song about his co-workers or business partners. Even in his retirement, Tom used humor. 

Research conducted by Peter McGraw at the University of Colorado reveals that humor reduces social distance, enabling individuals to connect on a deeper level and forge authentic relationships. By breaking down hierarchical walls and leveling the playing field, humor creates an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing their ideas and perspectives.

"Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." – Victor Borge

Consider a comedy show. Just as a comedian brings together a diverse audience, humor in the workplace can unite individuals from various backgrounds and disciplines. When a team shares a collective chuckle, they experience a moment of camaraderie that transcends titles and positions, leading to improved collaboration and a greater sense of belonging. Humor is a valuable ally, injecting levity into the daily grind and infusing teams with the resilience needed to persevere.

In "Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life", authors Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas found that leaders who incorporated humor into their interactions exhibited higher levels of charisma, increased employee satisfaction, and improved team cohesion. A well-timed joke can be the secret ingredient to being a beloved and influential leader!

There are a handful of known brands using humor effectively to drive their organizations forward:

The online shoe retailer built its brand around humor and customer delight. Their customer service representatives are known for injecting wit and levity into their interactions, leaving customers with a memorable experience and creating loyal advocates.

They are renowned for their playful and humorous culture, fostering an environment where employees are encouraged to take risks, challenge conventions, and generate groundbreaking ideas. The result? Animated masterpieces that captivate audiences worldwide. As John Lasseter said, “Humor is the easiest to achieve; the ‘heart’ is always the toughest, because you can’t tell people to feel a certain way.”

In theory, I'm sure you understand this, but how can we practice it? Here are a few ways you can start using a bit more humor in the workplace. 

Keep it Lighthearted

  • Develop a keen eye for the humorous side of everyday situations and incorporate witty remarks to bring laughter into conversations.
  • Transform common office mishaps into humorous anecdotes, lightening the mood and creating an enjoyable atmosphere.

Craft Clever Responses

  • Train yourself to respond to challenges with witty remarks, showcasing your ability to handle pressure humorously.
  • Infuse clever and playful responses into unexpected situations, demonstrating your quick thinking and lighthearted approach.

Use Relevant Analogies and Metaphors

  • Engage co-workers by incorporating humorous analogies and metaphors that compare work situations and amusing scenarios.
  • Make your conversations more colorful and memorable by utilizing vivid and funny comparisons to add a touch of humor to your interactions.

I've made the case for how humor can help in the workplace. 

Experiment with all of this. I wish you luck.

Seriously have fun!

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.