October 27th, 2015

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When used appropriately, meeting humor can help participants to focus, ease frayed nerves and breathe oxygen into a stale conversation.

Humor can “enhance creativity, elevate collegiality, and improve long term job performance” wrote professor of psychology Cindi May in a Scientific American article.

Although our first reaction might be to think that humor would derail a meeting, or indicate that it’s already off track, a recent study found the opposite to be true: Humor can promote a positive work environment and build group cohesion.

The study, which investigated the relationship between humor and team interaction, also found that humor often jump started broader questions and creative problem-solving.

Of course, there are times when jokes will fall flat or a humorous comment will accidentally offend people. This is especially true if people have a lot of insecurity about their future, or if the leader of the meeting – particularly a high-level executive – has shown a preference for more serious behavior.

Aside from these limitations, fun meetings can be better meetings. So make a point of adding a little humor to your next meeting. But before you start practicing your stand-up comedy routine, consider the following tips.

Tips for Adding Humor to Meetings

  • Know your audience. An inside joke might work well in a small group that knows each other well, but in a larger group it could make those who aren’t in the know feel like outsiders and discourage their participation. Multi-generational teams can also be challenging since everybody has different cultural references. Meeting humor can still work in mixed groups, just be sure it’s a universal type of comment.
  • Build relationships with laughter. recent study demonstrated that teams will develop “humor patterns” that lead to more productive meetings and build their bonds as a cohesive unit. The positive benefits have lasting impact; researchers found that even after two years those teams still relied on similar patterns for collaborative strength.
  • Avoid negative humor. Even one negative “joke” can shift the tone of a meeting. Make it clear from the outset that this type of humor is not accepted, and be sure you follow your own advice. For meetings where honest criticism is necessary, humor might not be the best fit.
  • Timing is everything. Humor should be a part of the group discussion, not overrun it. Even when everybody is having fun, don’t lose track of your agenda. Also, keep track of your time – especially if somebody else will need the conference room immediately after you.
  • Don’t be a jerkBe PC. You already know this, but we’ll just confirm: Stay away from vulgar, sexist, religious and political humor.

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