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Management Rules that Make No Sense #8: The Art of the Joke. Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Your Job If I’m Teasing You About Your Job

April 18, 2014

I really have to figure out how to cut down the length of the management rule titles.

Are you funny? Can you make people laugh? Is it just a polite chuckle, or can you make them shoot milk out their nose?

I love comedy. I have since I was a kid. My mother tells stories about me as a fairly young kid watching old Abbot and Costello movies and just rolling on the floor laughing. As an adult, I enjoy comedy clubs. Stand up comedy is an art form that is not for everyone. And what makes it unique among all performance art forms is that stand up comedy is the only art form that must have an audience to practice.

Over the past several years I’ve seen dozens of comedy shows. I’ve seen Brian Regan in an auditorium with 1000 people. And I’ve seen shows in local bars where the comics outnumber the audience 2:1 or more. I also enjoy youtube clips of comics. This clip by Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breath.

I especially enjoy open mics. This is where a performer has 3 minutes to be funny or die.

Everyone who gets up at an open mic thinks they are funny. My experience over the past several years is that 80% of them are delusional. They might be able to kid someone and make them laugh, but the ability to stand on a stage and make an audience laugh on cue is hard.

Comics, good comics, have the ability to make virtually anyone laugh and do it on cue. Maybe that is you. Not everyone who is a great comedian is on stage.

So, how do you use humor in the workplace? Joking with peers is typically accepted and expected in most fields and certainly in IT. What about when you are the boss? Can you crack a joke with the staff?

There are a few rules to consider. And the rules are different for managers than for staff. It’s not fair, but get used to it.

1. Never, EVER joke about race, religion or gender. There is no way for a manager to do it in a safe way. Probably throw sexual orientation into that mix as well.

2. Don’t make your employees the butt of jokes.

3. Self deprecating humor is allowed. . sometimes.

4. Never EVER use humor to cover an awkward situation.

If you are concerned with the time someone comes into the office, don’t joke about them “missing the train again.” As a manager, you hold a position of authority. Any joke you make “about” an employee will automatically be interpreted as a joke “at” that employee.

Here’s how I handled it. I told my staff that I would never use humor to cover an awkward situation. If I was teasing them about something, it meant that I really wasn’t worried about it.

Wait. Does that mean if you are NOT teasing us about something that you ARE worried about it?

That would be one of the red flags. Yes.

I once had an employee who screwed up really badly. (He Deserved To Be Fired.) But, he was a good employee and I really wanted to keep him. We worked through a 90 day Performance Improvement Plan. During that time, I never once teased him about the quality of his work, or anything that related to his job. He was fearing for his position. It would have been extremely cruel to laugh at his expense.

Once I set the rule that I won’t tease about serious issues, I’m free to engage in joking with the staff. (While keeping in mind the rules above.) So, you don’t need to completely suppress your personality when you become a manager. But, you should realize that when you take that manager role, the rules change. You give up some of your freedom of expression.

No joke.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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