Sunday, April 22, 2018 | ePaper

Have a laugh at work, get surprised by the payoff

  • Print


Art Markman :
Successful jokes can make people appear more competent and can increase their status. I like humour. I try to be funny, and sometimes succeed.  Thankfully, my podcast has a great producer, and so the final edits make me look a lot funnier than I really am (often by splicing together individual words to create something that is much like a ransom note).
Is it good to try to be funny in work contexts? People certainly tell a lot of jokes at work. I remember growing up that my father (an accountant) and his friends (mostly other professionals and business people) would trade jokes that they had heard in the workplace. Does telling jokes help people to be more successful?
This question was explored in a paper in the March 2017 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Bradford Bitterly, Alison Brooks, and Maurice Schweitzer.
They demonstrate that successful humour does increase people's status in organisations. Successful humour is both funny and appropriate for the work context.
In order to do their studies, they first did a survey to verify that humour is common in the workplace. It is. Then, they pilot tested a number of jokes to ensure that they were funny. They also found some jokes that were appropriate for the workplace and others that were not.
A second set of studies explored whether the joke had to succeed to work. In this case, participants read vignettes about a job interview.  The job candidate was asked a question and either answered it seriously or with a joke. The interviewer either laughed at the joke (a successful joke) or did not (an unsuccessful joke).
The interviewee's status was higher and they were rated as more confident when they told a successful joke than when they were serious or told an unsuccessful joke. Interestingly, the interviewee was rated as more confident when they told a joke than when they didn't, even when the joke was unsuccessful.
This finding suggests that successful jokes increase status, but unsuccessful ones don't. So far, this would suggest that humour is a good thing.  At worst, it doesn't hurt and at least increases people's sense of your confident.
However, a final set of studies looked at inappropriate jokes. For example, in one vignette, participants read about another job interview. The interviewer asked: "Are you looking for a challenging position." Some participants read that the job candidate gave a serious response ("Yes, I am a hard worker and like challenges.") Some participants read that the job candidate made an inappropriate joke.
Some participants read that the interviewer laughed at the joke while others read that the interviewer did not laugh.
In this case, the unsuccessful inappropriate joke decreased people's judgments of the candidate's status and competence quite a bit and even the successful inappropriate joke decreased people's beliefs about the candidate's competence.  Again, people rated the joke teller as having higher confidence than the candidate who gave a serious response.
The experimenters repeated this study with different jokes and somewhat different measures and obtained the same pattern of findings.
These results suggest that when people hear someone tell a joke in a work setting, it increases their sense of the joke teller's confidence. However, unsuccessful jokes and inappropriate jokes decrease people's sense of the competence of the individual.  When people view a colleague as confident, but not very competent, that ultimately hurts the colleague's status.
This work demonstrates that humour at work is a double-edged sword.  Successful jokes can make people appear more competent and can increase their status.  But, unsuccessful jokes-and particularly inappropriate jokes-can actually hurt one's position in the workplace.  So, it is important to use humour carefully.

(Art Markman, Ph.D., is Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. -Psychology Today)

More News For this Category

Beat cyber crime

We are stepping into a new era, an era of digitalization. But little do we know, in the disguise of this big revolution the basic values of humanity are

Exercise before pregnancy

Exercise before pregnancy

Life Desk :Expectant mothers who are more fit before pregnancy are at lower risk of developing gestational diabetes, a study suggests. Gestational diabetes is a condition in which women

 Dialysis facilities at Madaripur

Dialysis facilities at Madaripur

Life Desk :To spread treatment facility for the kidney patients to the different parts of the country the  Kidney Awareness Monitoring and Prevention Society (KAMPS) on Friday opened  a

Remembering Debabrata Biswas in Dhaka

Remembering Debabrata Biswas in Dhaka

Arun Kanti Chatterjee :We are the same souls and share the same artistic, literary and cultural legacies. This was again reinforced in a cultural meet when eminent persons and

Mothers from age 40 at risk of preterm birth

Life Desk :The researchers noted an association between preterm birth and mother's age and stated that the maternal age at pregnancy has been increasing worldwide and so has the

Magical space for children

Magical space for children

Life Desk :Transform your child's space into a delightfully dreamy abode replete with playful splashes of colour and chic furniture to inspire imaginative little minds.Some tips and tricks to

Cheaters perceived as less competent

Cheaters perceived as less competent

Life Desk  :People who commit moral transgression like cheating and shoplifting are viewed as less able to do their jobs or complete tasks effectively and low in social intelligence

Grapes to ward off depression

Grapes to ward off depression

Life Desk  :Including grapes in your diet may have a positive impact on your mental health as researchers have found that certain grape-derived compounds might be developed as therapeutic

Fashion trends to lookout for in 2018

Fashion trends to lookout for in 2018

Life Desk  :Stock your wardrobe with fringes, clothes in pastel shades and athleisure outfits to make a fashionable statement in 2018, say experts.Sanhita Dasgupta, Myntra Fashion Expert, and Neha

Breastfeeding secrets

Breastfeeding secrets

Life Desk  :Breastfeeding seems to be a most natural process, but to some, it may be a challenge. Be patient and feed often, say experts.Mimansa Malhotra (PT), Lactation Consultant