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The Dark Side of a Funny Situation

A sense of humour can help managers cultivate a cohesive work environment but, when used as a defence strategy, can foment confusion, tension and offence.

Everyone agreed that Jack, the VP Information Systems in the company, was a very funny guy. He had an unusual, self-deprecating twist to his humour, he knew how to get laughs out of people and to help them see the lighter side of things. But his banter also had a darker side, especially when it was directed at others. While his coworkers would laugh when he joked about colleagues’ imperfections, it would also leave them with a bitter aftertaste. What added to their ambivalence was that Jack was always giving conflicting signals. It was difficult to decipher his true intentions. Was he using humour to defend against his own insecurities? Was he covering up his own fears and pains? Was he using having fun to mask his hostility? Or, was he (by making others the butt of his jokes), deflecting attention from himself, to avoid getting too close to people?

Is it really funny?

Humour is a complex cognitive function that often, but not necessarily, leads to laughter. It may be used in a variety of ways, to both positive and negative effect. Most of us, when we engage in humour, do so to entertain. Such humour is congenial and empathetic: it brings people together. Humour is also a great way to relieve psychological tensions. It puts us face-to-face with life’s incongruities; the disparity between what we expect and what we experience can be quite absurd and thus comical. Also, at times, humour may be used to deal with situations that are beyond our control or are depressing. In such instances, it may provide an optimistic perspective or a temporary light at the end of the tunnel. However, there are also instances in which humour is used in a more malicious way. Making jokes or “laughing at” someone else’s expense may be funny for some but not necessarily funny for the person who is the subject of ridicule. In this case, humour may lead to resentment.

Source: The Dark Side of a Funny Situation | INSEAD Knowledge

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