As a leader, all eyes are on you. Whether you are fulfilling your role as your firm’s representative to the outside world or providing stability and direction to your internal team, your legitimacy always matters more than anything. 

Have you ever wondered whether cracking a joke in front of your employees, clients or customers would cause a knock to your leadership? Do you worry it would backfire, or are you concerned it would sound forced – or even risk unwanted legal trouble?

In this blog post, we will assess this common concern and take a look at ways you can build a rapport without causing trouble.

The research

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, extensive research has been carried out into the subject of workplace humour.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that one obvious minefield to avoid is innuendo. In the study, those who cracked a sexual joke were labelled incompetent and perceived as being low status, suggesting that crass humour is never a wise move.

Yet telling jokes in the workplace – or, indeed, anywhere – brings with it a certain element of risk. Showing yourself to be a risk-taker projects an image of confidence, so by cracking jokes you can subconsciously change the perception of yourself and build legitimacy. But what humour is appropriate to go for?

Show you’re not serious

Humour in the workplace doesn’t work well when there’s even the slightest chance that those you’re speaking to might take you seriously, say experts.

That’s why some simple absurdist humour is a safe bet. When the joke relies on an obvious truth, everyone can laugh – but no juniors will mistake the joke for stupidity on your part.

Be spontaneous

A sure-fire way to create resentment among your juniors is to make them feel like they are being forced to do something. Whether that’s making them sit through yet another unnecessary presentation or leaving them feeling compelled to laugh at a bad joke, it’s not worth the risk.

Instead, try to perfect the art of responding to events in the moment to find your sources of humour. Rather than shoehorning in irrelevant jokes, consider waiting until some insignificant hitch or problem occurs – like a temporary equipment breakdown – and then make light of the situation.

Bonding over a shared funny situation creates rapport, but delivering an irrelevant joke and expecting juniors to laugh simply reinforces an unhealthy power dynamic.

2010.06.10 by andy.simmons licensed under Creative commons 6