Business Humor Etiquette
Zero Risk Humor
In the privacy of our personal lives we can use humor as we wish,
but in the workplace, there are three rules when using humor.
Humor Rule Number One:
Poke Fun but don't Make Fun of anyone
...other than Yourself.
"Want to hear something funny?"
That opening line has caused more laughs, and potentially more trouble, than many others we face in the workplace. The truth is that we like to laugh. It's good for us mentally, emotionally, and physically. Yet there's a very fine line
between funny and offensive, and understanding how to navigate that issue can be challenging. Don't know the difference. This five-minute video will introduce you to some important humor distinctions.
Humor and laughter is beneficial to everyone unless it is at
the expense of someone who doesn’t want to feel expendable.
Cynical humor is not funny for one reason. It tastes bitter.
'Sarcasm' - a sharp and often satirical or ironic
utterance designed to cut or give pain.
Merriam Webster Dictionary
Everything is a joke until it's not.
Anything is funny as long as it happens to someone else.
Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody
else's expense. And I find that that's just a form of bullying in
a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny
and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting
somebody else's feelings.
When people are mean or angry they weaponize their words.
Humor can be a weapon too.
It’s called belittlement. To belittle someone is a cruel way of making someone else seem less important than yourself.
It's a form of bullying.
Make a hundred jokes about yourself
before you do a joke about someone else.
Sammy Obeid, Comedian
Humor Rule Number Two:
Consider the Timing and Context of your Humor
For example during a big layoff, if you're the CEO,
this is not the time to talk about your yacht problems.
Do you suffer from humor tone-deafness?
This short video should help.
Humor is treacherous. It can charm, coax, and persuade,
but it can also distract, baffle or alienate the audience.
Humor Rule Number Three:
Be sure the Humor you share has little
or no possibility of offending someone.
Religion and Politics are off-limits.
Avoid G.R.O.S.S. Humor:
Racist, Obscene, Sexual,
- from CleanComedians.com
Avoid Crass Humor
Def: So crude and unrefined as to be lacking in discrimination and sensibility.
Tasteless, insensitive, and coarse, "gross or beneath one's dignity." ie. Fart Jokes.
“If you ain’t one of em, don’t make fun of em.”
"Humor is a wonderful way to engage your audience.
It's always wise to run your humor ideas
past someone other than yourself."
A Cautionary Tale
My Friend Lost His $400,00 Management Job Using Risky Humor
Peugeot put out a funny but risky print add a few years ago (above left). One night, my good friend, John, who was VP of Sales for a Worldwide Investment Firm overseeing 1,200 sales reps for his Eastern Division Sales Group, decided to add the above right image to his quarterly update e-mail for a little levity. He had just seen it online and thought it was amusing enough to add it to his newsletter at the last minute. But he missed the Warning Sign.
Seconds after he pressed the send button he started getting frantic e-mails "John, are you sure you want to send this out??"
It did not occur to him the humor he included would be a problem for his sales reps but the flurry of emails coming at him made him realize if it was at all
possible he needed to pull back the e-mail. But he couldn't. It turned out the email didn't just go out to his sales team, who might have smiled at his genuine effort at humor; the email also went out to a few of the company's important clients.
The head of HR realized of course that if John could do it all over again he wouldn’t have sent it. And because John was always a great employee, the HR
Director gave John the option of resigning to avoid the taint of being
terminated in his next job search.
In summary, John's attempt at a little 'levity' cost him a job he had been enjoying for over ten years - as well as his $400,000 annual salary, his family's financial future, and the humiliation of having corporate security be called to personally escort him out of the building with his box of belongings.
At a team meeting, the leader of the discussion stands up and tries to break the ice by saying, “I hope this joke won’t offend anybody.” (That’s all you need to know the red flag is starting to wave.)
For leaders who wish to dip their toes into the pool of levity, here are four quick areas to avoid:
1. Kidding: Statements that come out of your mouth followed by the words “just kidding” are usually a mistake. Often, people who say hurtful things do it on purpose, so try not to join that crowd.
2. Mockery: A mean-spirited joke at someone’s expense hurts everyone involved. In addition to the person being mocked, all listeners immediately know that they are fair game too for the next round of attacks, and this atmosphere of combat
radiates tension and distrust. Mockery has no place on the job or at home. Siblings and spouses are especially prone to these tugs-of-war of derision.
3. Sarcasm: Some things are better left unsaid. Certainly the day-to-day work environment is rife with opportunities to let loose with cynical tirades. Just because those opportunities rise up and present themselves like a mandrill in heat doesn’t mean you have to seize them.
4. Anger: Humor is a release of tension, but when it’s also a release of anger it’s not funny. When you have an impulse to get back at somebody with a joke, then all of a sudden, its goal has shifted away from the purposes of our work: unity
and cooperation. And sadly, you’re headed for the kind of humor that is anything but light.
Without professional humor tools, most people feel like cavemen with just
a club to get a laugh. No wonder they're afraid of someone getting hurt.
Robert Bostick, HumorPoint Founder
Peter McGraw's Benign Violation Theory
Seeing someone slip on a banana peel is funny unless someone gets hurt.
A story, joke, one-liner, cartoon or image is funny unless someone feels hurt.
Peter McGraw's Benign Violation Theory provides interesting and important guidance on where the sweet spot of humor is and where it's not. You can learn
more about it here.
'Poking Fun' vs 'Making Fun'
It's the difference between laughing and hurting.
I'll leave you with this final story that happened to me one time. Cartoons are powerful humor. Some cartoons garner the greatest laughs because of a razor-sharp illumination of truth we recognize. Just as in the previous story, I decided to e-mail something I thought would provide a little comic relief to a lifelong friend of mine who had been going through a bout of serious depression.
Thinking he was feeling better, I thought he might get a laugh from the cartoon above. It was meant to be a little recuperative 'poking fun' between friends going through one of life's rough patches. Unfortunately, he took it as me 'making fun' of his depression. He was hurt. This was the last thing on earth I wanted to do.
Of course, we can't ever be certain the humor we decided to share isn't going to offend someone, but in life, and at work, it is probably wise to err on the side of empathy and the Golden Rule whenever possible. This is especially important advice for the bullies of the world who use humor as a weapon thinking that 'put down humor' is funny.
Fortunately, with HumorPoint you will have plenty of heartfelt arrows in your humor quiver to choose from to share the most appropriate and wecome humor with your colleagues, clients, and friends.
The professional Quality Humor Content available on HumorPoint has been specifically curated to make people smile and laugh with ease without the 'risk' inherent by using inappropriate 'casual street humor' in the work environment.
Our goal is to take the risk out of using humor at work while providing people the safest, most intelligent laugh-inducing likable humor anywhere.
Yes, there is always the possibility that your effort or my effort to generate and share a little levity may unintentionally offend or hurt someone. The good news is if someone is hurt or offended and if we're quick to apologize usually all will be forgiven.
"More fundamentally, one of the training methods I've used over the years is to take the joke to the most extreme level of distribution. I have managers imagine the joke being broadcast across the company's exterior marketing channels and then consider how that would make the manager and the company look in the public eye if the joke wasn't made just to four or five people on a team but to four or five thousand people outside the firm. This sometimes helps leaders to realize that there are broader implications than a quick laugh in the moment."
By always honoring the '3 Humor Rules' and 'The Golden Rule' you will safely enjoy humor's gift and power within your business and personal life for greater success.
And on that final note we will leave you with one of our favorite cartoons. Admittedly we have a soft spot for animal cartoons. Especially the funny, cute, adorable ones.