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Humor in the Workplace

Using Humor in the Workplace to Increase Performance

April 1, 2022
Lead Others
Joseph Cook

At WinShape Teams, we have a desire to accomplish our mission of building strong, healthy, fulfilling teams that change the world around them.  

  • To accomplish this mission, we need to operate as a high-performing team.
  • To become a high-performing team, we must be able to trust each other.
  • To establish trust on our team, we need to understand each other and build connections. 

And one of the fastest ways to begin building connections is through…humor.

There you have it! To help accomplish your team’s ultimate purpose, just add a little humor; however, it must be done the right way.

Humor is one of the most valued traits across humanity, yet it can also be quite intimidating. The point of this article is not to explain how to be funny or even to expose the scientific benefits that humor has on our mental and emotional health (you can find those tips here). My hope is to reveal how to build connections with others using humor.

Humor in the Workplace

The Right Type of Humor

In middle and high school, I learned what it takes to become popular. At first, I thought it was all about looks. As I continued to observe, however, I saw that more than looks, style, or skills, humor was the biggest factor in determining one’s popularity.  

The problem is that the humor used to gain popularity was the kind that was always at the expense of another person. It was as if all these teenagers were trying to climb this mountain of popularity, but reaching the summit required sabotaging other climbers. A harsh reality is that many of us never grew out of using humor to advance ourselves at the expense of others.  

I fell into the trap of using humor at the expense of others until I found a more fulfilling way.

Instead of making others laugh by making fun of people, I found more joy in finding ways to laugh with others by finding something we connected on.

As I started using humor this way, I found that my relationships grew stronger and faster leading to deeper levels of connection and trust.  

Humor in the Workplace

Humor Builds Connection & Trust in the Workplace

With some of our team members, we connect on television shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Friends (shout out to NBC). With others, we may connect on parenting and laugh about things our kids say or do; with others, it may be that we both have shortfalls in similar areas, and we laugh with each other about our efforts. With almost everyone, terrible dad jokes are low-hanging fruit. The challenge is that there could be a different connection point with each person.

The bright side, however, is that there is always at least one connection point. We just have to be intentional about finding it, but the reward of deeper connections and trust is worth the extra effort.

I was facilitating a team of Chick-fil-A employees not too long ago, and I used my experience of working at Chick-fil-A when I was in college as my initial connection point. I asked if they had ever experienced a lunchtime rush while working in a mall unit. I then shared a story about a time I busted my behind in front of everyone. 

Chick-fil-A’s in a mall food court are much more confined than free-standing Chick-fil-A stores, so one gets many opportunities to practice spin moves and slides in order to move around the limited space as efficiently as possible. The floors can also be quite slippery without the proper shoes. This one day, I had misplaced my “sticky” shoes and wore my athletic tennis shoes instead. We were in a lunch rush, and as I was rushing to serve a customer, I tried to slide from one part of the counter to the other and BAM! I hit the floor and won the opportunity to re-wash my hands…again.  

As soon as I told this story, my audience of Chick-fil-A employees started laughing, but they were not making fun of me. They were laughing because they could fully relate to what I was saying. The floors in a quick-service restaurant are extremely slippery, and they become like an ice-skating rink without the proper shoes.

My ultimate goal was not to get the group to laugh. It was to build a connection and get the group to see that I understand them. As soon as they feel like I understand them, they are more willing to trust me as their facilitator. Once we have established trust, our mission of developing and building up their team became so much easier.

The beauty of this approach to humor is that one does not need to be skilled in humor to produce it. All you need is a connection with someone else, and there is always a connection. I should also provide a disclaimer that simply adding humor into your relationships will not build trust alone and will not fix all your team’s problems. It is just an easy and fast way to start building connections with others. 

Humor in the Workplace

Three Ways to Start Using Humor to Increase Performance

The three ways to start connecting with others using humor are simple: 

1. Ask questions. Before sharing something I saw on a television show, I need to find out if that is a shared connection with my audience. This interaction starts like this, “Have you ever seen The Office?” If yes, my next step is easy. If not, find another connection. It is also helpful to start with the most basic connections. Do you have any kids? Are you married? Do you drink coffee?  

2. Be open. To make a connection with others, each party must be willing to open up and share a little about themselves. Practice sharing about your own shortcomings with the balance of transparency and respect. Do not degrade yourself but being honest about your experiences can build a powerful connection. 

3. Do not give up. Remember, there will always be at least one connection. While it may take some time and effort to find a connecting point, keep trying. They may not watch your favorite show, have kids, or have gotten married, but something is there. It may be about a challenge while traveling or similar pet peeves; just keep trying. The laughter you both experience and the connection made will be worth the energy because it will lead to more trust and higher performance. 

In conclusion, allow me to prove my point by getting you to like me by way of a relevant and awful dad joke: 

Air used to be free at the gas station, but now it’s $1.50. Do you know why? . . . Inflation!

Humor in the Workplace

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