We’re going to get serious about humor for a minute. What’s it all about, and how can a good manager use it when appropriate?

To start, let’s look back at a great philosopher of humor, Henri Bergson, who proposed a brilliant explanation for why we laugh at pratfalls – and by extension, at anything comical.

Shocked into laughter
Bergson said we’re shocked into a reaction when suddenly presented with an inflexible human body meeting the endless unpredictability of nature – in the form of the thing that tripped the person up.

The contrast is so incongruous, so out of place, that laughter is the only possible response.

So what does that tell us about the value of humor?

Staying flexible
Simply this: We need to be more playful and pliable if we’re going to adapt to the surprises that life – and business – always hold in store for us.

Managers who grasp this point:

  • Don’t see a crisis around every corner. Many things don’t really matter all that much. Laugh at them.
  • Take themselves with a grain of salt. Are we all a bit ridiculous? Sure, when seen from certain angles.
  • Discourage “mean” humor. Jokes that denigrate others don’t move anybody forward.

Adapted from “Leading With Kindness,” by William F. Baker and Michael O’Malley.

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