I had an intriguing experience recently that got me pondering the role of humor in the workplace. I was preparing for a meeting with a client, a session we both anticipated to be intense and serious. However, when I saw the meeting invite, a smile involuntarily appeared on my face. The meeting title was a clever play on a well-known movie quote. That unexpected moment of levity completely changed the dynamic of the meeting before it even began.
It prompted me to consider the ways in which leaders can effectively employ humor.
The use of humor in a professional setting can be a complex issue. The line between a joke that amuses and one that offends can sometimes be thin. Additionally, humor that relies on specific cultural references can alienate those who aren’t familiar with them. However, there is one form of humor that tends to work well and usually doesn’t carry the risk of alienating or offending others – self-deprecating humor.
In my experience, making light-hearted, self-deprecating comments can be an excellent way for leaders and facilitators to ease into a conversation. Of course, it requires a certain level of confidence and a secure environment. But the rewards can be significant. It can induce smiles, lower tension, and foster a sense of connection among participants. That’s precisely what the clever meeting title did for me.
So, does serious work always require a serious demeanor? I seriously doubt it.