The Power of Humour in Business Communication 

Humour in a business context should not be confused with comedy, jest or sarcasm. A good joke needs the right time and place, while humour makes sense in terms of business. Malcolm Kushner, a corporate humour consultant, argues that “humour is a powerful management tool”. It can attract attention, create rapport and make one’s message more memorable. It can also reduce tension, enhance relationships and motivate people.

Using humour in business communication should be done with caution. It is inappropriate to add a joke to every situation. It is all about the right timing. For example, a good time for joking is when you need to present dry content. Although you need to get important ideas across, your audience could get easily bored or even sleepy. Saying a joke between a few points of your presentation will help retain your audience’s attention. 

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One of the biggest concerns over humour is that it requires a lot of work, and involves a lot of risk. It can be easily misinterpreted or turn off your audience entirely. It can also become an unnecessary distraction that diverts attention from key points in a document or presentation. To avoid this, follow these guidelines:

  1. Keep it as a treat. Too many jokes are exhausting. Treat them as small rewards for getting through some dry information. This will ensure that you get your message across and at the same time make it more digestible to your audience. It will also help better process and retain the information that you presented.
  2. Make it an addition to your content, not the content. Make sure you put your message across without distracting it with unnecessary jokes. Carefully select your jokes and make sure that they do not interfere with your key message. Consider them as an addition to your content which lightens up the mood and makes your speech more enjoyable.  
  3. Make fun of yourself. If you make fun of yourself, you show that you are self-aware. This approach pays off when you realize that you need a different market position. If your humour has been edgy, and you have kept on making fun of others, distancing yourself from this image can be difficult. To keep your options open in the future, always make fun of yourself.

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Paradoxically, humour can both unite and divide. This paradox is apparent in humourist Izzy Gesel’s classification of the social functions of humour:

  1. Shield. If we use self-deprecating humour, it functions as a shield. By devaluing ourselves, we ensure that others will not do it.
  2. Weapon. When we use sarcasm or ‘put-down humour’ to leave other people speechless, have the final say or belittle someone, we use it as a weapon. By devaluing others, we make ourselves feel better or superior.
  3. Bridge. If we use humour to share experiences, show empathy and lighten someone’s mood or load, it acts as a bridge to connect with other people. 
  4. Spotlight. When we use humour to distract from an uncomfortable topic or attract attention to ourselves, it acts as a spotlight. Laughter can be used as a tool to manipulate an audience’s attention.

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References: | Allan Duquette, |