Laughing is good for the soul (but also for your professional life)

As a great Gigi Proietti, the Italian actor who left us just a few weeks ago, said, “I could be your friend in a minute, but if you don’t know how to laugh, I walk away. Those who cannot laugh make me suspicious ”.

I’m not telling anything new if I say that the ability to laugh has always been a positive gift, which helps us in our balance, in our personal relationships. What I would like to discuss in this article is the possibility of taking advantage of the ability to laugh for our professional growth, using it as a tool to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.

As we read in an article in the Harvard Business Review, supported by studies from Wharton, MIT, and London Business School, “every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity. “

But how to approach laughter correctly and strategically in the workplace? How to make it functional to one’s goals, to complex relationships without collapsing the (often fragile) balances that have been laboriously conquered?

Many might say that the problem lies in the subjectivity of humor: what makes me laugh, for example, could offend or leave someone else baffled. However, this thesis seems to be disproved by some studies on the subject. The authors of two recent books – The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny and Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind – believe that there is a formula for building humor that is potentially suitable and appreciated by most of people.

I share this thesis very much, and I believe that problem solving, as often happens, can come to our aid in the construction of this “functional humor”. How?

First of all, it is important to observe and know this aspect of ourselves well. Do we often laugh at work? On what? When others make a joke about us how do we react? How does this situation make us feel? When we joke about some colleague, how do we set up the joke? Are we able to joke with our boss too? Observing one’s own behaviors always puts us in a position of clear advantage in experimenting with new approaches, enabling us to modify some nuances.

My suggestion, then, is to focus on and implement two different and complementary approaches to humor in our working context:

– Laughing at ourselves: the ability to laugh at our flaws or characteristics neutralizes any hint of ‘bullying’ or inelegant goliardic attitudes. The best way to laugh at yourself, without becoming the victim of an unwelcome joke, is to anticipate the potential mockery (and not go along with it), being very careful to “lighten” its content. Let’s take an apparently simple but effective example: let’s imagine that we are someone who generally dresses in a showy, colorful, unusual way. We would probably be aware that sometimes this feature of ours makes us the subject of comments and a few laughs. So here one morning we enter the office wearing a particularly colorful and original dress. At the first convivial occasion (the classic coffee machine, for example) we let it slip, with an ironic tone: “this morning I left with the intention of dressing sober, but then I thought: we need someone to bring a little of color and good mood in the office, so I opted for this wonderful floral pattern! Tell the truth: I bring such a good mood, don’t I ? You should thank me! ” This approach that I would define “preventive” to self-irony allows us to be able to laugh at ourselves without entering a role of “victims”, avoiding giving rise to a disrespectful approach from others, as well as letting us discover the pleasure of shape the perception of one’s own characteristics and make them appreciable by others.

– Laughing with others (and never at others): Joking about the defects of others with a complicit and never judgmental approach helps to lighten the atmosphere and create a condition of well-being such that every discussion, more or less delicate, becomes fully manageable thanks to relationships that favor the search for an agreement. Again, let’s use a simple but clear example: let’s imagine that our boss or a colleague of ours is a foreigner and sometimes makes some language mistakes or has a strange pronunciation. She/He knows this, and is probably also aware that her/his colleagues are commenting on some of his most common mistakes. Rather than pretending not to notice in front of her/him, creating a silence that is not very credible, it is much more strategic to jokingly underline a mistake or a lack of pronunciation, making it followed by an equally joking compliment, such as: “There is nothing to laugh about: such an accent doubles the charm, it has something exotic and irresistible! “. This attitude will help to improve the relationship and also to gain the right confidence to discreetly correct your boss or colleague in some mistakes, which she/he will certainly be grateful for.

Like all skills, this too is not an innate gift, but it is something that is learned with experience (as a child) and with study (as an adult). And like all skills it must be trained, improved and refined, in order to be able to use it in a strategic and functional way to our professional and personal relationships.


The important thing is not to underestimate its power, because, as Andrew Carnegie said: “There is little success where there is little laughter“.