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When workplace jokes just aren’t funny

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Humor in the workplace can make the day go by faster and strengthen co-worker relationships. However, it can also be damaging.

Humor can be a positive force if it’s used to entertain, provide optimism in the face of adversity or relieve tension, writes Manfred Kets de Vries, INSEAD distinguished professor of leadership development and organizational change. But if humor comes from a place of ridicule or malicious intent, it can quickly become hurtful.

Laughter has been shown to help reduce stress and encourage social interaction. Humor helps connect us, but it can also alienate those who are the butt of the joke. It can create hostility and resentment among co-workers or employees and affects the communication dynamic of the workplace. Humor, when used in appropriate situations, makes the workplace less stressful, but while you may think your co-workers understand your humor, jokes can still be taken as off-putting or rude.

Play it safe: Make fun only of yourself. When you poke fun at yourself, people appreciate the humility, and you’re guaranteed not to offend the target of your remarks.

— Adapted from “The Dark Side of a Funny Situa­­tion,” Manfred Kets de Vries, INSEAD Knowledge.

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