25. Humour


Humour has been defined as

- when people cognitively appraise something as funny, and/or

- it creates a positive emotion of amusement, and/or

- produces laughter

Laughter is not regarded as a reliable indicator as

"...the average adult laughs 18 times a day......Researchers found only 10 to 20% of remarks that prompted laughter to be remotely funny..."

Benjamin Healy 2018

There are many different theories about humour

- philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Hobbs, Descartes, Baudelaire, etc suggested that we are amused when we are made to feel superior to others

- people like Freud suggested that forbidden things are hilarious as

"... Humour is pressure valve for repressive psychic energy..."

Benjamin Healy 2018

- other is like Kant, Schopenhauer, Youngman, etc see humour as arising from incongruity, ie when conventions are undermined by an absurd situation

- 'benign-violation theory' (McGraw and Warren) suggest that to be funny, a situation needs to be both benign and appraised as a violation, eg

"...including violation of personal dignity (eg slapstick, physical deformities), linguistic norms (eg unusual accents, malapropisms), social norms (eg eating from a sterile bedpan, strange behaviours) and even moral norms (eg bestiality, disrespectful behaviour) - all of which have comic potential, provided they don't seem threatening..."

Benjamin Healy 2018

- humour is a by-product of male hormonal aggression (this needs more research)

- an evolutionary adaptation, ie

"...Promoted human survival by rewarding our relatively feeble minds for distinguishing true from false, right from wrong, and harmless from dangerous..."

Benjamin Healy 2018

NB Recently research has started on looking at humour via AI

. In an organisational context, humour is most useful when it moves beyond jokes, riddles, gags, kidding, clowning, mimicking, smiles and laughter

However, jokes can be the circuit breaker in embarrassing and/or negative situations. They can encourage like-minded people to recognise each other and to bond. They can serve as a source of hope of something better.

"...Jokes allow people to acknowledge failures, crimes, hypocrisy and absurdities without having to take ownership of the underlying knowledge..."
Timur Kuran as quoted by Virginia Postrel, 2017

In addition to relieving stress and boredom, humour (laughter) can boost engagement, well-being, spur creativity, collaboration and improve analytic precision and productivity. Babies laugh on average 400 times a day; people over 35, only 15. We laugh more on the weekends than weekdays.

Remember, humour is subjective: what one person finds hilarious, others may not.

There is some suggestion that there is a formula for what makes people laugh. It is claimed that humour rests on a "benign violation". Laughter can be provoked when something is "wrong, unsettling or threatening" but also seems "okay, acceptable or safe".

It is easier to fail with humour than succeed as comedy is context-dependent, ie a "delicate operation built on layers of shared knowledge and innuendo"

"...we laugh when we find that something we momentarily believed to be the case isn't in fact true and at others in the same predicament, and that stories about such situations, especially if they are linked to pleasure or other kinds, such as insight......superiority, or sexual titillation. The simplest examples are puns and pranks..."

Alison Beard, 2014

When using humour, need to be honest and authentic; don't be afraid to chuckle at yourself; laughter can be disarming; poking fun at issues that everyone is worried about or take too seriously, etc can be powerful

. In transforming AMP from a "cot case to a success story", ex CEO Andrew Mohl found humour of powerful tonic

. Humour can encompass anything that supposedly enhances well-being, such as gestures, music, rituals and recognition. Sometimes humour is manifested as light heartedness of spirit rather than a constant comic display. It can mean that an organisation does not take itself too seriously

. Humour needs to strategically fit with the organisational culture, ie the way things happen around here. Humour can be ad hoc and/or institutionalised

. The humour needs to be appropriate, such as

- socially acceptable

- well timed and tied to the task at hand

- staff have a strong relationship with the person being humorous

- person aims humour at himself/herself

- used to poke fun at a situation, not at any person or group

- staff have established work ethic and competence to handle the job before humour is used

. Humour is not appropriate if

- it's crude, rude, physically dangerous or counterproductive

- other people are the butt of the joke or it is used to harm others

- jokes or puns are made at the expense of gender/ethnic/religious/national/racial/cultural groups

- it assumes everyone has a similar sense of humour

- it is used as an exclusory tactic

- it is used to challenge authority or subvert corporate goals

- it frustrates someone who is eager to have a serious conversation or address an issue of concern

- it suggests that the initiator is important

. Humour can increase organisational cohesion. It lubricates social relationships and reduces barriers to status and individual differences. Humans need to be affiliative, which focuses on creating and maintaining group cohesion instead of employing ostracising humour, which demeans or isolates group members. Humour is a double-edged sword!!!!!!!!

. In an organisational sense, humour can be used:

- as a coping mechanism

- to facilitate negotiations

- as a communication instrument

- as a cognitive tool

- as a motivation tool

- as a creativity aid

- as a stress diffuser

- as a learning aid

- as a change agent

- to improve job satisfaction

- to reduce stress

- to improve productivity

- as a tool to provide a competitive advantage, eg it helps to retain staff, as they like to work in an organisation that they enjoy


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