Monday, 30 December 2013

Witty Women in the Workplace: Why using humour more can boost your career

Research demonstrates that using humour at work is good for career progression. But it seems that women use it far less than men and this might be holding them back.  

 Comedian turned psychology graduate Ruby Wax says: "The past 10 years have seen a huge change in corporate culture.  People used to want to hire the smartest, slickest candidate. Now they want a human being, someone they can trust. It’s borne out of the recession, of witnessing so many big boys turn out to be crooks.”  So demonstrating charm and authenticity is good business as well as good manners. 

 Women are certainly able to use humour.  Anyone who as ever seen a group of women on a night out together making each other laugh hysterically can vouch for that.  But, unlike men, we don't use it in mixed groups very often and tend to leave it at home when we walk past reception on Monday morning.

This seems to be another area where boys have the advantage from childhood.  Scientists argue that men start using humour systematically with each other in their teens as a way of channeling testosterone and this develops into the male banter that seems to come so naturally to them as adults.  Men use this without thinking in business. It allows them to show they are intelligent and that they can make others comfortable.  Others interpret these characteristics as leadership and it is a subtle indicator of power and control.

So it stands to reason that if we can bring the humour we share with our girlfriends into the workplace we will be more successful.  It sounds easy but it doesn’t work quite like that in practice.  Rolling your eyes as you tell your colleagues about your husband leaving the toilet seat up won’t do much for your image.  And joke telling isn't the answer, although it’s useful to have one up your sleeve in case of emergencies. 

Women apparently  find it harder to remember jokes than men.  Despite feverish attempts I can only ever reliably remember one joke  - "What do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back?  A stick".  It makes my children groan.  But the last time I tried it on another senior woman during a very boring meeting she snorted with laughter so perhaps it has hidden depths. 

Miranda Hart copyright

It's really just about making others feel relaxed and comfortable which is after all when most of us do our best work.  And you can do that most effectively by being comfortable in your own skin and relaxing enough to trust others and take a few risks.  It will make you seem human and in control and sends a subtle message that you are taking care of the harmony and productivity of the group as a whole. 

Brits may have a natural advantage.  We grow up in a culture where pomposity is a cardinal sin and making others laugh, especially at our own expense, is a required social skill.  But anyone can do it.  If you need some ideas read this recent article written by the hilarious Miranda Hart. I’ll certainly be following her advice.