Humor in Business, Seriously

According to authors Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, humor is serious business. It builds bonds, defuses tension, boosts innovation, and bolsters resilience through hard times.

In a recent chat for USA Manufacturing Hour on Twitter, Val Weber from Monofrax in New York led a discussion about humor’s place in business. She got her inspiration directly from Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas and their book Humor, Seriously: Why Humor is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life.


The Basis of Humor

The discussion began with Host Weber asking participants to share what they think is the basis of humor.

Julie Basello from Radwell International in New Jersey said, “There is always a little kernel of truth at the heart of humor in my opinion.”

Mike Womack from NJMEP in New Jersey said, “This is tough! When a statement or action is relatable but exaggerated enough to be outside of the norm? Excited to see what we can learn from you, Val.”

Erin Courtenay from Earthling Interactive in Wisconsin said, “It comes from the "funny bone"!”

Ruby Rusine from Social Success Marketing in California said, “Nice one.”

She added, “Humor comes from life’s realities. And putting comic twist to it. This is subjective though but I love clean humor. And anything “funny” that does not degrade another human.”

Smartflow in Nigeria said, “Things that are totally out of place can make me laugh.”

Dan Bigger from Optessa Inc in New Jersey said, “It came from a man falling on his face and everyone laughed and thus the birth of humor.”

Manufacturers' News, Inc. in Illinois said, “Yes, the basis of humor is pain!”

Kelly Plats from NACL in Ohio said, “Humor comes from the part of us that wants to connect, but encounters something we don't know how to react to. Its something that's "shocking", but not serious and it causes a reaction.”

Nigel T Packer from PelaTis Online in Wales, UK said, “Humor is a safety valve, it helps release tension and stress in difficult situations. It stopped me getting bullied at school, because I made them laugh.

Whitney Koch from Welker, Inc. in Texas said, “Love this, Nigel! Laughing is such a great way to release stress.”

VirtuDesk said, “The truth in form of a joke that anyone can relate to.”

David Crysler from The Crysler Club in Michigan said, “Wanting to make genuine connections with people. It's an easy way to break up tension and be approachable.”

Pavel Stepanov from VirtuDesk said, “Humor comes from facts in life.”

Sue Nordman from Obsidian Manufacturing in Illinois said, “Laughter is such a stress reliever for me. I've had several influences in my life that have taught me to laugh at myself and situation at hand. Because of that, I am able to handle things a little bit better, I think.”

Ben Nordman from Obsidian Manufacturing in Illinois said, “I would say that humor has multiple different sources. It could be from a certain mood a person is in such as joy or even nervousness. I think creativity also is a large part of it.”

Host Weber said, “The basis of humor is truth – specifically shared truths with a sprinkle of misdirection.”


Why Humor is Important in Business

professional-males-laughing-with-laptopsThe discussion then turned to why humor is important in business. Participants had many thoughts to share.

Basello said, “Because even the most serious things do need some levity every now and again to provide relief in stressful situations.”

Smartflow said, “It can soften the bad news similar to what Radwell International said.”

Packer said, “Humor in business helps to break down barriers. For introductions to building friendships. There is a caveat, the humor must be in line with the gravitas of the meeting or situation and the strength of the relationship.”

Rusine said, “Work is busy enough. Humor lightens it. It also breaks down barriers in some cases.”

Bigger said, “It keeps everyone loose and builds team as long as you don't go overboard.”

John Buglino from Optessa Inc in New Jersey said, “You need to have some fun in your day. No one likes to be in an environment that is dull.”
Manufacturers' News, Inc. said, “It brings people together: employees, customers, vendors, everyone!”

Chase Bodor from Plastics Plus Technology, Inc in California said, “I think humor is important for breaking up the mundane.”

Ben Nordman said, “With business being more of a serious topic, putting humor into it makes it more enjoyable! For example, one of our salespeople gives us a daily dad joke at the end of the day. We all look forward to it!”

Matt Long from Aviate Creative in New Jersey said, “Humor is an asset in business because it breaks down boundaries. When you make someone laugh, the serotonin release they feel relaxes them and makes relationship building easier, be they a client or a staff member.”

VirtuDesk said, “Because it grabs the attention of your audience and lightens their mood.”

Stepanov said, “Your audience wants to engage if they can relate which can be done by adding a sense of humor.”

JD from Cleveland Deburring in Ohio said, “Humor cuts through it all. Stress, anxiety, tension, almost any other human emotion that could and does get in the way of conducting business on a daily basis. It can be the one thing that unites us all in any given situation.”

Kirsten Austin from DCSC Inc. in Missouri said, “Very good answer JD! Really needed too these last few years if you ask me, with everything going on in the world.”

She continued, “Humor helps people relieve stress while maintaining a good attitude to get a project done. I'll never forget when we had a major WMS Go Live Deployment & 1 of our vendors said he was almost happy to go to the dentist, just to have 30 minutes to himself.”

Plats said, “Humor connects people! Also it definitely helps the day go by faster and alleviates tension. Humor makes the work day FUN. For me, using humor has allowed me to build better connections with customers and vendors. Personal connection is invaluable!”

Brett from FreightPOP in California said, “Humor can help you connect with your customers and give your brand a bit of personality!”

Courtenay said, “When done properly humor = humility. It is important to be humble in a service business. The ability to laugh at yourself goes a long way toward building trust which is the basis of a strong business partnership.”

Koch said, “If you don’t have a sense of humor, it can be hard for others to warm up to you…which can make it more challenging for them to work with you.”

Host Weber said, “Humor is important in business because it builds human connections and makes relationships authentic. She quoted Aaker and Bagdonas: “Even small gestures of levity are powerful in negotiations.”

She continued, “Truth is humor. Lucy in the candy factory is such a great example because we all have felt like we couldn't keep up. If only we were able to stuff ourselves with chocolate when that happens.


Is Humor Like Exercise?

Participants then discussed their thoughts on how humor is like exercise.

Paulie Rose from RCF Technologies in Missouri said, “Laughing like exercise releases endorphins. Who couldn’t use some extra endorphins?!”

Packer said, “Like exercise the more you practice the better you become. An important factor is to understand your audience, to know how far you can go with the humor. “

professionals-sitting-laughing-togetherAustin said, “Exactly, you want to laugh when something is funny but you don't want to do it at an inappropriate time. One time I was in church & I got the giggles because my brother looked all pious while singing, even though he'd punched me in the arm while no one was looking.”

Crysler said, “The more you put in the more you get out!”

Buglino said, “Everyone tries but few get it right.”

Bigger said, “You need to warm up before you do your big moves.”

VirtuDesk said, “I agree. You need to warm up before you blow that big laugh or else bones may break.”

They added, “It came from "Laughter is the best medicine". Happy hormones make us healthy, just like exercise.”

Long said, “It's more like Personal Training: You might not get it right the first time. It takes time to improve. If you do it right, others will be rolling on the floor crying. If you do it in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might get arrested.”

Koch said, “Someone already mentioned serotonin…it gets released during exercise and when you smile and laugh.”

Charli K. Matthews from Empowering Pumps in Alabama said, “It's a proven stress relief. I've never thought of myself as funny, so I love to have entertaining people around me that can make me laugh.”

Stepanov said, “Because it happens every day. Even in the smallest of things.”

Nordman said, “If the jokes are good enough, it gives a good core workout!”

Industry 4.0 in Canada said, “It takes practice.”

HAGGLETHIS.COM in California said, “Humor may make your brain more elastic, because you need to create unused connections to create humor.”

Koch said, “Love this answer!”

Bodor said, “Like exercise, laughing actually releases chemicals in your brain that make you happy. As they say, laughter is the best medicine. Living a happy (and mentally healthy) life requires us to practice laughing and joking around from time to time.”

JD said, “Belly laughs are good for the core.”

Courtenay said, “A good belly laugh can be a workout! It moves the blood and gets the endorphins flowing.”

Plats said, “It takes effort, practice, and consistency. Humor sometimes comes naturally, but just like any skill you have to nurture it if you want to use it to its full (and appropriate) potential. Also, have you ever laughed so hard that it felt like you did an ab workout?”

Womack said, “Consistently leads to progress!”

Host Weber said, “Humor is good for us, but sometimes it takes work.  It’s a learned skill.”  She continued, “Humor is also like playing a musical instrument. Practice, practice, practice.”



The discussion then turned to how can humor foster teamwork. Participants shared their thoughts.

Bigger said, “It helps to make everyone bring down their guards.”

Packer said, “If you can get the whole team laughing together then you get the whole team working together.”

VirtuDesk said, “We agree with you, Dan! And lose their composure sometimes. Nothing beats a good laugh to lighten the mood.”

Koch said, “I feel closest to my teammates when we’re joking and laughing together.”

Courtenay said, “When someone is funny it is like a little gift. It is generous to take the risk to use humor. Generosity helps forge bonds and the more connected you feel to people the happier you are!”

Ben Nordman said, “I think it helps with chemistry of a team which obviously helps foster teamwork!”

Beth Bigelow from Home Building Solutions in Michigan said, “Oops, I'm a bit late! I literally cannot work if I don't have some humor around. Ruby from Social Success Marketing knows I'm quite the jokester!”

Adam Baker from Schooley Mitchell in Pennsylvania said, “Laughter increases endorphins and we associate that good feeling with those we are around and thus we want more of it. Can I get away with saying I've been here the whole time?”

Nicole Donnelly from Donnelly Marketing Group in Virginia said, “Humor forges connection because it triggers positive physical and emotional responses with others.”

Velavu in Canada said, “Humor reminds us that we're humans and not just a function of our work. Laughing and humour removes the formalities of business and can let people relax and engage more.”

Manufacturers' News, Inc. said, “People are much more inclined to work together if they are having fun doing so--and of course, humor is a big part of that!”

Bodor said, “As was said before, humor helps create rapport. Good chemistry helps teams work more effectively.”

Plats said, “It fosters connection and camaraderie. Especially when you can all find humor in the same situation. Thus the inside joke was born! It removes the pressure and stress and allows people to be their authentic selves.”

Sue Nordman said, “I think it can go both ways. Everyone needs to be sensitive to each other's boundaries and not push things too far. If that is done, it really can be a bonding experience.”

Koch said, “I think what happened at the Oscars on Sunday is a prime example of not crossing boundaries with your comedy.”

Long said, “Humor can help people relax and ease tension which creates an ideal environment for fostering teamwork, assuming the humor is done right!”

Stepanov said, “It builds relationships and the closeness of your team.”

Host Weber said, “Humor improves communication and problem-solving behaviors.  It encourages creativity and boosts resiliency.” She added, “

Humor improves communication and problem-solving behaviors. It encourages creativity and boosts resiliency. It also brings people together.


Humor Benefits for Leaders

Participants then discussed how leaders can benefit from the use of humor.

Basello said, “Definitely would rather work with a boss who has a sense of humor. I don't know what to do with humorless people--They just don't get me.”

Bigger said, “Always with one that has humor. If not is is like an Algebra class and I am done and over with that.”

Ben Nordman said, “Well like we mentioned in the last Q, it can foster teamwork so that is one big benefit for a leader. And I want a leader who can both have humor and be serious at times. It's all about timing and delivery.”

Bigelow said, “I think it's easier for leaders to gain respect when they are seen as relatable. I for one could not work for someone that is humorless. That's not my vibe!”

Nick Rivers from Obsidian Manufacturing in Illinois said, “Humor eases tension, especially with sensitive subjects. Leaders can appear more "Human" with the use of humor. I use it against myself at times to let people know that mistakes are OK and can lead to opportunities.”

Plats said, “It makes leaders more personable and approachable. Leaders without a sense of humor are not the kind of people that inspire and retain talent. Humor is an essential part of leadership. You don't need to be a stand up comedian, just have a joke and laugh ready!”

VirtuDesk said, “It makes things memorable for their team members and builds trust. It also destroys the barrier each team member has with their leader.”

Stepanov said, “Benefits: -It is easier to connect with people -Humanize conversations -Foster Teamwork -Builds Trust”

Koch said, “I think having a sense of humor is something that shows in how you carry yourself and interact with others. If a leader always has a stony expression, they give off negative vibes, which can rally bring down the work atmosphere.”

Packer said, “As we move away from formal, hierarchical structures of management being a team player becomes part of the leadership role. Smaller businesses are able to be agile. Large corporates and Government institutions don't have a sense of humor.”

Paulie Rose said, “I would prefer a boss with a sense of humor every time. Just don't be gross.”

Baker said, “Humor is subjective - if you can get your team to laugh, it shows that you understand them and helps build trust that you both can relate to one another. For sure, I'd rather work for a boss with a sense of humor - so he can laugh at my mistakes!”

Courtenay said, “As a leader it is almost more important to be receptive to humor than to produce it. Sometimes humor is a communication short-cut; you can say a lot just with a silly expression or a well-placed roll of the eye.”

Sue Nordman said, “I have to go back to transparency. As a leader, I don't want to portray that I can't have emotions and feelings. That's not good for my relationship with my employees.”

Host Weber said, “Managers who use humor are more respected, considered to be more trustworthy, friendlier, and more pleasant to work with. She continued, “What leader couldn't benefit by being more likable, more trustworthy, and more fun to work with? For leaders, self-deprecating humor rather than humor aimed at others is key.


Serving as inspiration for Val Weber, Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas teach “Humor: Serious Business”, at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. According to their website, “their course has helped some of the world’s most hard-driving, blazer-wearing business minds have more joy in their work and lives.” That sounds like a pretty good business plan. Who doesn’t need more joy in their work and in their life?



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