Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Should I Tell That Joke at Work?

The Wall Street Journal has a nice summary of recent research on humor in the workplace written by scholars Alison Wood Brooks and T. Bradford Bitterly.   The scholars point out some of the positive effects of humor in the workplace.  For instance, they cite one study by Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock.  Here is the summary of those findings:

Research led by Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock at VU University Amsterdam studied how patterns of humor in conversation—such as a joke followed by another joke or a joke followed by laughter—predicted other types of communication, as well as team performance, more broadly. The researchers found that teams that tell more jokes and laugh together also made more supportive and constructive statements to each other, things like “that’s a great idea” or “we could solve this problem by doing X.” That, in turn, led them to perform better on a number of measures, such as hitting goals and improving efficiency. The researchers surmised that humor could improve team interaction by triggering positive forms of communication.

Of course, one always worries about the inappropriate use of humor in the workplace. Will you offend someone?  Could you cross the line and face disciplinary action for something you say?  Could it even get you fired?   The problem, according to researchers, is that we are not very good predictors of what others will find to be funny.  In fact, we aren't good predictors even when we know the person quite well.  Here's one study that examined this situation:

In a recent study led by Michael Yeomans at Harvard University, pairs of museum-goers were asked to predict what their companion would find funny. Many of the pairs included married couples, or people who had known each other for years. Even with the close connection between people, Dr. Yeomans found that they weren’t very good at predicting what their partner would find funny. A statistical prediction model turned out to be much better at rating how funny their companion would rate a joke.

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