Don’t Leave Your Sense of Humor at Home

Both individually and organizationally humor is a powerfully positive tool. It is a major competitive advantage for you in a work culture that is serious about getting things done, and is a spark for all your personal relationships.

(Average reading time 180 seconds)

Why Humor Is Important To Your Personal Relationships

In prepping for this article I asked my wife, “If I didn’t make you smile, if we rarely laughed, would we still be together?” Her immediate response was “No!” I got the impression she would drop me in a hot minute. Although I think I bring some other attributes to the table, I’m sure glad I can still make her smile and chuckle here and there.

As it turns out my spouse is not alone in her expectations. Meta-analysis of over three decades of studies on personal relationships demonstrates that the affiliative humor a couple creates together is strongly related to their intimacy level, to being at ease together and their overall relationship satisfaction. Humor plays a vital role in the initial attraction and ongoing maintenance of a romantic relationship. It has also proven valuable in helping romantic partners adapt to stressful situations together.

Affiliative humor includes making witty remarks, telling funny stories or jokes, or engaging in mild self-deprecating humor. On the other hand, Aggressive humor is to be avoided as it tends to hurt others through derision, sarcasm, and hostility. The research warns not to make your partner the butt of the joke.

Benefiting from humor in your romantic and other personal relationships is not about being a comedian though. It results from finding the funny in how each day unfolds and enjoying it together. Intentionally do things like:

  • Listen for, then share a joke you think would make your partner laugh.
  • Relate funny things your kids say or do.
  • Stream your favorite comedian in action and enjoy it together.
  • Share some humorous experiences from your own childhood…

…or, as Jeffrey Hall of the University of Kansas and the author of a humor study covering 15,000 participants says, “relish together the absurdity of life.”

Why Humor is Important to Your Career and Your Team

In their excellent book, Humor, Seriously, Why Humor Is A Secret Weapon in Business and Life, Jennifer Aakker and Naomi Bagdonas document the major impact of humor on career and business success. They reviewed studies on humor involving over 1.5 million people across the globe. Those studies demonstrated amongst other things that a sense of levity on the job has a major positive impact on:

  • Power and Respect – The real and perceived power you have in the organization
  • Building Bridges and Trust – Quicker and stronger
  • Standing Out and Being Remembered
  • Increased Resiliency
  • Looking Smart – Both the ability to generate and appreciate humor have repeatedly been found to correlate with measures of intelligence.
  • Coping With Stress – Both routine and in times of acute stress
  • Getting More of What You Want – Routinely and in negotiations

Aakker and Bagdonas cover multiple studies documenting each of these individual career and team benefits. In one of many experiments sited on Getting More of What You Want participants were asked to negotiate with an art dealer for the purchase price of a piece of art. Half of the participants were instructed to make a final offer significantly above their last bid, saying “My final offer is X.” The other half did not raise their bid from their last price but said with a smile, “My final offer is X…and I’ll throw in my pet frog.”

The result: For the final offers delivered with the frog line, buyers were willing to pay, on average, an 18 percent higher price. What’s more, the buyers later reported enjoying the task more and feeling less tension with the seller…just by adding a little humor.

Quoted in the book are interviews with senior executives from Apple, Pixar, Virgin, Deloitte, Berkshire Hathaway, Disney and others. They attest to the positive impact on productivity, creativity, stress and the achievement of major goals through the cultivation of a culture that includes the right kind of humor. It is viewed as a major competitive advantage.

As the book’s authors put it, “Today’s employees yearn for more authentic, human leaders. Aspirational yes, but also flawed. Humor is a powerful leadership strategy to humanize oneself to employees, breakdown barriers, and balance authority with approachability.” That is true no matter your position.

Upgrading Your Levity Quotient

First, get over the failure myth; the fear your attempt at humor will bomb. It’s not so much whether you’re actually funny, it’s whether you have the mettle to tell or respond to anything humorous. The research shows that what’s far more important than being funny is simply signaling that you have a sense of humor. Sometimes it’s as simple as laughing at other’s jokes or jumping on opportunities to lighten the mood.

From their research Aakker and Bagdonas have broken down humor types and give specific advice for each. For those that tend to be an outgoing humorist already in their personal life they encourage you to bring more of that side of yourself to work, if you haven’t already. Just make sure your humor doesn’t cross current cultural lines and is not making other individuals or groups the butt of a joke.

A big step for those of us less outgoing with our humor is to not take ourselves too seriously. When we refuse to take ourselves seriously we relieve stress that impedes our path to serious accomplishment. We also create more meaningful connections with our colleagues and open ourselves up to more innovative solutions. Here are some humor tips to do that.

Use self-deprecating humor with those you are leading. It personalizes you and lets others feel safe enough to make light of their own mistakes and gives them courage to take on bolder tasks. Self-deprecating humor however, is not recommended for those above you on the leadership ladder.

Write down two or three laughable or smile worthy things as they happen each day to potentially share at home or with co-workers.

Bring a sense of levity to work. Look for opportunities to initiate or share a chuckle.

Remember it is not about rowdy laughter, it’s to create a moment of connection.

Whether you are the source, or the smiling reply, your intentional levity lets people know you have a sense of humor. Doing so routinely at work delivers powerful professional benefits and adds an extra spark to your overall life. Humor is a skill that, like a muscle, you can strengthen through use. Develop an everyday mindset of looking for reasons to be delighted.


Note: This article was motivated and draws on the book, Humor, Seriously, Why Humor Is A Secret Weapon in Business and Life. I highly recommend it as a career enhancer and an enjoyable read.



“A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing.”

“Why should we need extra time in which to enjoy ourselves? If we expect to enjoy our life, we will have to learn to be joyful in all of it, not just at stated intervals when we can get time or when we have nothing else to do.”

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) was an American writer. She is known for the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books which were based on her childhood in a settler and pioneer family.


Do you know why Casper didn’t go to the dance? He had no-body to go with.