Humor in business is considered frivolous. It dilutes the message. Business is about achievement, productivity, making money, accomplishing tangible things. However, we as human beings learn best in moments of enjoyment, and by personal experience.
Thomas Wright, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Nevada, thinks that it helps to laugh. He has done extensive surveys, which show that leaders who keep their sense of humor when unwanted changes happen, do better at their jobs. They are seen to get along better with clients and associates, find more creative solutions to problems, and are more productive than their more serious counterparts. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.
A recent study of Gallup data for the US found that we laugh significantly less on weekdays than we do on weekends. If creativity, innovation, and higher emotional intelligence is the need of the hour from leaders in today’s corporate world, how do we foster these right brain functions? Humor can help in accomplishing it.
The book, ‘The Levity Effect’ reveals the remarkable power of fun and humor in building a productive, engaged and loyal workforce and in-turn a more successful you. It proves through research that light-hearted leaders earn more on average than their more serious peers; entertaining workplaces breed more loyal employees and happier customers; and employees who are considered humorous are vastly more likely to get promoted especially to senior positions. It presents extensive research including compelling data from the Great Place to Work® Institute’s one million-member database, which goes against the grain of traditional business thinking and reveals that great companies consistently earn significantly higher marks for fun.
So how does humor help leaders in business?
Building relationships: Using laughter, wisecracks and banter, to get along with employees and clients helps build rapport. It is a well-known fact that if someone likes you, then that is half the battle won. Our repartee lets us get to know each other and in-turn start building genuine relationships.
Increasing the impact of presentations and speeches: Audiences remember things better from speeches when they laugh. An important characteristic of a good presentation is humor, and it needs to be deliberately inserted if it does not come naturally to the leader.
Engage meetings on a serious topic: Serious points can be a drag for people, and they can tune out or worse be alarmed if the issue at hand is critical. Combining serious points with humor, engages the listeners and you can still get across a serious message. Laughter can be used as a disarming tool. Poking fun at things that everyone is worried about lightens the mood.
Creating a happier work environment: Humor goes a long way in the workplace atmosphere. Humor can propagate positive energy in a work environment, in-turn creating a harmonious organization.
The team at Actuate Business Consulting, a knowledge-based management consulting firm in India, believes that it is easier to get this wrong than right, especially if humor doesn’t come naturally to you. However, allowing yourself a little leeway and being open to be childlike is a start. You could try it first in a safer environment like with family and friends. At times you may even feel that you are going against your beliefs. However, as a leader it is important to step up in certain situations, even if the requirement is to loosen up and have the ability to mock yourself. To others, especially the people who look up to you, this signals that all is well.
There are many different kinds of funny – laugh out loud, to sarcastic, to clever, to observant. Being authentic to your own style of funny further enhances your leadership brand. Usually one can tell when people are genuinely amused at your jest or if it is faked, by looking at the crinkling around eyes.
So, you see being funny is serious business and lightening up leads to real business results.