Jokes at work might lighten the mood. More often however, jokes and sarcasm at work create discomfort, hurt, and even retaliation.
As someone who did not grow up hearing jokes and sarcasm, I’ve found myself in some challenging situations. On one presentation occasion, an audience member pulled-one-over on me and I didn’t realize it until I read the body language of others in the room – back in the days when we met in person, before online-only video calls which don’t provide group body-language cues.
Which brings me to, jokes and sarcasm in person were challenging and not usually helpful when we were in the same physical spaces working together. However, we are – in 2021 – living in an age of video-call-technology-driven meetings in which sound glitches and shaky video can confuse listeners even when communication is straight-forward. In this era, jokes and sarcasm can backfire and cause outright harm to work effectiveness and to productive relationships.
When hurt and harm happens, let the joke-teller or story-sharer know. If no one says “stop” or “that’s not funny” or “that’s hurtful”, then the tellers and sharers understand that they have permission to keep going. As the unwelcomed jokes and stories continue to be told, discomfort grows and can convert to anger.
When anger begins the side-effects are often harmful. Anger and hurt can cause solid workplace producers to leave. Anger and hurt that grow can prompt retaliation among the people who stay – and retaliatory behaviors are never helpful to the productivity, morale, and profits of a workplace.
If you are the joke-teller, edit seriously what you share. If you are the story-telling, also, edit extensively what you share. Some listeners will smile and walk away. Eventually however, they may begin ignoring you on every front. Other listeners will laugh with you – and you may never learn whether they were really laughing with you or simply finding a way to get out of the situation in which they found themselves angry, not wanting to laugh, and wanting to be far away from you.
As the listener to unwanted jokes and stories – find a way to speak up, directly to the person. If you can’t approach the person alone, find a trusted co-worker and together approach the person. If, after trying to address it directly, you find that no progress is being made, then escalate the request for help to your human resources department. Problem-solving, rather than retaliation, being the goal.
If you are the teller or sharer when someone asks you to stop; stop. Everyone finds different things funny – we don’t all have the same sense of humor. That’s okay. When someone asks you to stop, the important thing is to respectfully stop. To make amends if needed.
What is happening in your workplace? Are stories, jokes, and sarcasm working?
Or, is it time for a review of how daily communications happen?
Ready for workplace productivity, profit, and morale building experiences? Call master facilitator and strategic planning leader Jana Kemp: 208-367-1701
As the author of seven books, in seven languages, Jana has been interviewed by U.S., Canadian, and European programs, and magazines. Her presentations have been seen in the United States and India by international audience members.
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