Written by Alyssa Walker

All work and no play... well, you know how it goes. It's boring. It's no fun. It's dull.

The thing about being funny at work is this: if a joke backfires, you look bad. Really bad. Worse: it damages your credibility.

But if it goes well? It boosts business.

While it's risky business to crack a joke at work, researchers at Cambridge Judge Business School are trying to figure out ways for leaders to be funny both skillfully and effectively.

In an article in the Financial Times, preliminary research on the study reveals "significant differences in the way men and women use humor, and that women could be missing out on smart leadership strategies."

They're finding that men use humor at their own expense to their advantage and women tend to avoid humor altogether, at the risk of looking inept. 

The Cambridge researchers suggest that humor can benefit men and women at work and offer a few tips for getting started.

They identified four types of humor and how to use them: self-enhancing/deprecating, in which you laugh at yourself; affiliative, in which you joke about everyday situations; aggressive, in which you laugh at others, and self-defeating, which is critical.

The researchers suggest sticking with the first two: laughing at yourself... and maybe cracking a joke or two about a downed copy machine.

They note that "there is real skill in avoiding muddling self-deprecating humor with self-defeating." To avoid getting trapped, they suggest that you have a clear understanding of your audience so that you know your "wisecracks" won't misfire. They also suggest being selective about when to crack a joke and not appearing as the class, or in this case, office clown.

When you make a joke, you make yourself vulnerable. As long as you can take a gentle, measured approach, you soften the office climate, make it easier for people to communicate--and most importantly, make yourself an approachable, if not downright funny, colleague.

Go forth and laugh.

Learn more about earning your MBA.


Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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