Humour In The Work Place? It’s No Joke!

September 17, 2013

It is not often that I read another person’s blog and totally disagree with the message but it happened this week. I won’t mention names but the blog argued that humour was ‘vital’ in business and should be encouraged. Much ‘ice was broken’ by the telling of a gag and everyone got on like a house on fire!

I responded to the article with an appropriate comment and this was backed up by some, but (for balance) as many people supported and agreed with the author.

Those of you that know me will know that I have a dry sense of humour and a wit that borders on the Jack Dee edge of sarcasm. I love words and double meanings and have been known to finish a cryptic crossword or two!

So if I’m such a fan of humour, why did I argue against the blog post? Well here’s the difference; I would NEVER use humour as part of rapport building with new people that don’t know me. The problem is that our sense of humour is a personal thing and therefore we all have a very different idea on what is, or isn’t funny. Worse still, funny to some may be deeply offensive to someone else. I have been told jokes by colleagues and clients that have been racist, sexist or poked fun at the disabled. Do these people not realise that they risk losing their job for a bit of (what they call) fun?

Let me give you a real life example. A number of years ago I was car hunting for my wife and while browsing one particular forecourt I was approached by a sheepskin clad chap who said “Can I help?” This was not a bad start and I replied “I’m looking for a new car for the wife”, without a moment’s hesitation he said “Well obviously I’d need to see her to check out the bodywork, but providing she’s okay I’m sure we can do a deal.”

Now some of you may think that is hilarious but on that day at that particular moment I didn’t. It made me really cross and needless to say I didn’t by a car from him.

Why alienate people by risking the use of humour when you first meet them. Yes, you could get a reputation for being fun and ‘a good people person’, but you are also as likely to be remembered as ‘a bit of a joker’ and not a person to be taken seriously.

What’s wrong with a broad smile, a firm handshake and great eye contact? The answer is absolutely nothing! As we get to know people we build an understanding of their sense of humour and over time an appropriate level of repartee can then commence BUT always let the client lead. For example I was working with a regular client the other day and I asked him “John, remind me how many people you have working here?” To which he replied “About half of them!” Now that’s a management joke!

At MTD we work in learning and development and appropriate stories, analogies and fun are all part of our learning arsenal. A joke or funny analogy can often break the ice with a group and get them engaged ready for the learning process. The key word here is ‘appropriate’ rather than right or wrong!

Do let me have your thoughts and ideas BUT please no jokes!

Many thanks

Stuart Allen

Trainer & Consultant at MTD Training

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