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Add Humor to Your Job and Boost Your Career

A little levity can go a long way at work.

During the manager’s last staff meeting, everyone was texting just below the conference table. He thought the sudden cheer by two employees meant he’d said something clever (when it was really a score in a Brazilian soccer game).

There’s a reason why motivational speakers start with a joke or a humorous anecdote — they capture the audience’s attention, lighten the mood, set positive expectations and motivate everyone to be more productive. In a study from the Journal of Applied Psychology, just one use of humor among work teams resulted in improved performance not just immediately, but up to two years later. Levity also improves recall. It is often the shortest pipeline to the memory banks.

How much bantering you should try depends on your corporate culture. But even in the stuffiest boardroom, there is an appreciation of well-timed lightheartedness. An upbeat atmosphere encourages innovation and smart risks, which lead to greater productivity.

Here are some tips on applying “intelligent humor” to your job:

Test the waters. Try a lighthearted comment or your own brand of wit at your next appropriate opportunity. It may go completely over someone’s head—but it may also elicit an equally funny response or facilitate creativity, as you create a fertile, safe ground for thinking out of the proverbial box.

Build trust, camaraderie and honesty. When you use humor effectively, you project that there is a real person behind the routine, professional business façade. A manager who infuses laughter among the team engenders an open and honest work environment.

Share the spotlight. You don’t want to be known as the only employee with the “witty gene,” so let others shine, too. The goal is to be more productive, not engage in one-upmanship joke-a-thon.

Put others at ease. An occasional self-deprecating joke or amusing anecdote can shift a dicey dynamic in most any meeting. There are few better ways to break the tension barrier. Knowing that a coworker has the ability to be lighthearted establishes a fertile ground for better problem solving.

Manage your manager. Perhaps you have a tough boss, where you feel you can’t be yourself. Many employees are surprised to see that they can break through the façade of their most difficult managers by adding levity to the equation. In fact, I have seen entire dynamics change between boss and employee. Granted, it is hard to bravely take the first step, but it's well worth it.

Don’t make a joke at another’s expense. It’s sometimes easy to take a potshot at a co-worker, but a good rule of thumb is that if you think your joke might be at someone else’s expense, then it probably is. A clever, lighthearted comment will often boost morale. Just be sure that in your zeal to entertain others, your humor doesn’t alienate.

Lessen the stress. If you can see the lighter side of situations at the office, you will make the workplace more relaxing and create a better sense of calm around you. We all want to be around upbeat colleagues.

Increase Your Odds at the Interview. Job interviews require you to be professional, but that shouldn’t exclude the use of some clever levity. Most hiring managers are drawn to job candidates who know how to put others at ease with a knack of humor; it’s usually associated with a high degree of emotional intelligence.

It may take awhile to develop a comfortable way to use levity in your job, but it’s a worthy pursuit. The goal isn’t to be voted funniest employee, or force yourself to be someone you're not. By being aware of the benefits of adding some wittiness to your “brand,” you’ll likely accelerate your success at your job and in your career.

More from Lynn Taylor
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