Can you imagine a world where you could always hear someone laughing at work? That is the question that led me to my research and career as a professor and leadership trainer.
According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report (registration required), 85% of the global workforce experiences low levels of engagement at work. Most of us are actively disengaged, unmotivated or mentally checked out from our work. At the core of this issue is low vertical trust between leaders and employees. We can use humor to fix that, and there are lots of research that demonstrate that it’s more than just a possibility.
Humor is great for our brains. Fellow humor researchers Ori Amir and Irving Biederman led a study that demonstrated how humor leads to tons of brain activity in the neocortex — the part of the brain associated with learning — more so than almost all other social activities. Put another way, creating humor is like a superhero brain exercise.
Others have published articles based on research that show how humor is connected to enhanced performance, satisfaction, cohesion, leadership, communication, creativity and company culture. A study done by Eric Romero and Terry Pearson demonstrated how the individual’s use of humor can lead to increased use of humor in groups.
I’ve also found that humor can build trust when it’s collaborative. Humor that builds trust shouldn’t isolate people or groups or come at their expense. That’s why you must be careful and it’s why most people avoid it altogether. But there are ways to use humor effectively.
How do we create collaborative humor? It happens through questions. This way, it’s social, spontaneous and organic, unlike a comedian who uses prepared jokes for entertaining an audience. When you want to give someone else the gift of creating humor, ask them creative questions to encourage divergent and humorous thinking.