When I was teaching stand-up at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a long time ago, before shared laughter had registered as legitimate mental health support, I often had executives from movie studios in my classes. They were there to improve their public speaking skills, polish a few jokes, and learn ways of breaking tension using humour. Imagine their surprise when they got all that and an understanding of the value of authenticity with empathy, an appreciation of timing, and bonding with classmates after spending weeks laughing together.
Many years and a global pandemic later, research has proven the irrefutable value of laughter, not only for the dopamine hit but also for fostering trust and inspiring innovation. A sense of humour as a leader is one of the most effective tools for keeping your team together and happy.
Here are 5 ways I can share with you to help you wave your laughter flag:
- Laugh yourself. Yes, you! Not joking. Allow yourself to laugh.
Leaders with a sense of humour are seen as “27 percent more motivating and admired. Their employees are 15 percent more engaged.” 1 And laughter is contagious. If you are laughing, it allows others to laugh. Since we’re all rightly concerned about mental health these days, laughter is more than just fun. According to a Johns Hopkins study, “Humour can spontaneously relieve fear, anxiety, anger, and depression.”
- Use “Affiliative” humour. Fancy word!
What it refers to is humour that brings people together and creates human connection—poking fun at things that people can relate to. Think “Ted Lasso.” Discourage “aggressive humour,” which is often expressed through sarcasm or put downs. These are difficult times, with anxiety and depression at an all-time high worldwide. Even in jest, no one should be cut down. Create a welcoming environment where everyone feels valued and respected.
- Let teams have their own inside jokes.
The Harvard Business Review states that “laughter is one of the best ways to keep a team emotionally connected.” Supporting my strongly held belief that teams that laugh together stay together. With employee retention on every leader’s mind, what a joyful way to get people to feel a sense of belonging to each other and the company. So, next time you’re in a meeting, don’t be in a rush to get started. If you want people to feel connected as human beings everyone needs to take a breath and allow for some levity in the room. Connect with your team and share a laugh or two.
- Reveal an unusual and unexpected about yourself.
One of the oldest tricks in the comedy book is the “element of surprise.” It can be self-deprecating or sarcastic, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, “I’m not a great cook. I’m more of a defroster.” It’s not going to make anyone fall out of their chair, but it might make them laugh, and more importantly, it humanises me. I’m revealing some vulnerability. Important distinction: I am not a chef. But this would not be funny if I were hired to make a sumptuous meal. Keep this in mind as you are looking for your “element of surprise” to share. It shouldn’t be about something in which people expect you to be an expert.
- Lastly, jump up and down!
Perhaps not literally, of course (unless that’s your thing). However, doing something physical can change the energy in the room and create a shift that may spark a new idea or, at the very least, more oxygen to the lungs. It could be something as simple as a quick stretch break, a silly dance, or a quick game of “Simon Says.” You’ll create a more dynamic and interactive environment that encourages creativity and collaboration by getting your team up and moving.
Finally, a sense of humour can be one of the most useful tools in a leader’s arsenal. You’ll build a happier, healthier, and more productive team if you use humour to build a sense of community, foster trust, and inspire innovation. So, raise your flag of laughter and reap the benefits of a more lighthearted and empowered workplace.
This guest blog has been written by Dani Klein Modisett, CEO and founder and CEO at Laughter On Call, a company that is taking on the urgent need for mental wellness with shared laughter workshops and training. Dani Klein Modisett is also a comedian/actor and author of the book, “Take My Spouse, Please.” (Shambhala Press, 2015) a part-memoir, part how-to for creating shared laughter to keep your marriage happy and healthy.
She runs Laughter On Call and is developing a podcast, “Really, God?” featuring live performances of true, laugh-out-loud stories written and performed by people who have been brought to their knees and found a way to laugh again. Know more about Dani and her mission to create connection through shared laughter through her website https://www.laughteroncall.com/. You can also find her on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.
1 “Humor, Seriously,” (2021) by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas.