Humor Can Make You (and Your Employees) More Influential — If You Do It Right
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After his successful bid for Twitter, Elon Musk , CEO at SpaceX and Tesla took to the platform to make fun of his next venture. Musk joked that he would buy Coca-Cola next to get the cocaine back in. This was a reference to the original recipe of the soft drink company. Musk was not only astonished by the quip, but others have taken to social media to suggest other companies he could purchase and “improve.” “
It can be quite amusing to see celebrities like Musk using humor well. You may also be inspired to try your hand at humor. It is evident that humor can be a benefit to your leadership style.
Humor can be a powerful tool to increase your respect, popularity, and prestige as a leader. It can also increase the status of your followers and motivate them to advocate for organizational improvements. You need to be aware that humor can have negative consequences. These are some things to consider when deciding whether to use humor at work
Hone your skills
Humor can be a sign of intelligence and capability. Studies show that using humor when interacting with others can make you appear more competent, enable you to achieve higher status and be seen as a leader. There’s a catch. Your humor must be funny.
Think about the time you witnessed someone fail at humor. It was likely to evoke secondhand embarrassment. You also probably saw them become less self-assured and poised. How did this affect your perceptions of them? Did you feel they were less competent because they failed to deliver the intended message well?
While humor can improve your perceived competence and status in a professional setting, it can also reduce it. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t try humor at times. Rather, the point is that much like other leadership skills, successful attempts at humor is an art that needs to be honed. Knowing the risks associated with humor at work can help to make a more informed decision about whether or not to tell that joke you’ve been waiting to tell.
Related: How to Be Funny in the Workplace
Keep it clean
Humor can lower your status if it doesn’t push the limits enough and fails to register as humor. Another reason, however, could be that the joke pushes the boundaries of appropriateness too far and offends those it intends to humor. Sarcasm and teasing are all common examples. These are often considered aggressive forms of humor. There is a place and time for more edgy comedy, but the workplace is not one of them.
Research suggests that using aggressive humor at work can encourage subordinates to flout the rules, thus undermining your influence. Inappropriate jokes can also affect your ability to influence others, which can lead to a decrease in your status and influence. The lesson is that, when it comes to the work environment, leveraging the benefits of humor requires knowing when your joke pushes the boundaries enough to be funny without crossing the line.
Humor can affect others’ status
Humor can improve or decrease your status and influence at work. But can joking around with your subordinates also affect their status and influence?
Interested in this question, my colleagues and I recently conducted a series of studies to shed some light on the topic. Leaders who use a positive, playful style of humor found that their subordinates become more involved in work, are more confident, and have a better workplace. They were able to leverage their increased influence to advocate changes that could improve the work unit.
But not every style of humor leads to such positive outcomes. Aggressive humor can be a status-suppressor, as well. We also found that leaders who use humor that involves sarcasm or teasing, had a tendency to make their subordinates recoil from their work environment, which in turn led to them becoming less confident and inhibited. This ultimately resulted in their workplace status being suppressed. In turn, they became less engaged in their work and less likely to voice their suggestions.
Remember that humor can have a significant impact on your leadership abilities and the behavior of those you lead. Keep that in mind and maybe you can leave the cocaine jokes to Elon Musk.