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Humour, Seriously: Why Humour Is A Superpower At Work And In Life

As the title suggests, this book about humor has a serious side too. Humor in the workplace is often nonexistent, yet levity is one of the fastest and surest ways to forge strong connections, boost creativity, and improve productivity. As Aaker and Bagdonas show us throughout their book, humor in the workplace really can be a superpower that creates spaces where people can think freely, speak openly and try new approaches to old (and new) problems.

Based on six years of research and studies involving more than 1.5 million people across 166 countries, the authors answer the how and whys of humor in the workplace, showing where it can differ across cultures and through different stages of life. Humor is not an innate ability. Fortunately, just like intelligence, creativity, and emotional intelligence, it can be learned and fostered. In doing so, we can transform our interactions in the workplace, forge more substantial and deeper connections with others, and signal that we truly see the people around us. The benefits that humor can bring to our lives are in ever-increasing demand; learning how and when to use levity can propel us professionally and bring new purpose to our days. Aaker and Bagdonas

The Mechanics Of Humor

Humor has a remarkable impact on how we see others. Those who show a sense of humor are perceived as having a higher status and are more likely to be voted into leadership roles. Playful workplace cultures allow teams to thrive and mutually support each other, even when times get rough. The science behind these facts points to our neurochemistry. When we laugh, a cocktail of hormones is released by the brain. Dopamine makes us feel happier, oxytocin prompts us to feel more trusting, and endorphins that engender euphoria feelings are released with each chuckle. At the same time, cortisol, our stress hormone, is concurrently lowered in our systems.

In a moment of laughter, we are charmed and disarmed by the person evoking that response from us. Laughter provides the link between humor and psychological safety. Just the anticipation of laughter decreases our cortisol and epinephrine levels by 39 and 70 percent, respectively. A spark of human connection is ignited when we laugh or smile, and both people in the interaction become more inclined to share thoughts, feelings, and intimate details about who they are. In short, humor is the fastest path to openness and vulnerability.

Not everyone has the same style of humor. One of the key reasons we leave joking aside when we come to work is that we’re afraid we may inadvertently offend someone with our particular brand of laughter. It’s a fair concern; just as surely as a shared chuckle can strengthen relationships, inappropriate or aggressive humor can weaken ties and make workplace conflicts challenging to resolve. Learning the four different humor styles and expanding your range is one way to avoid accidentally upsetting someone with your kind of levity. Even so, faux pas will happen so, and it’s equally important to be able to spot when we’ve crossed the line and know how to recover from humor fail. The authors of this book have us covered on both counts.

Whether your preferred style of humor is subtle, aggressive, expressive, or affiliative, because humor is a skill we can all build upon, it’s possible to develop our range and thus be able to call upon the right kind of humor for any given situation. When used well, humor helps us learn more deeply and enhance our right-brained creativity and lateral thinking modes. These benefits alone make levity at work ever more important now and into the future.

Observation and taking the time to notice the absurdities and oddities around us are foundational for developing humor and fun. At the heart of all humor is a kernel of truth, and all humor contains surprise and misdirection – this is where punchlines get their punch. Thankfully, humor at work isn’t about laboring to create side-splitting jokes for our workmates; it’s more about making more human connections in our everyday interactions. When we are open to doing this and find lightheartedness in our daily exchanges, we become more productive, effective, and happy - and far less bored. Humor can bring richness to the quality of our professional relationships and organizational cultures if only we are brave enough to let it.

Leading with Levity