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Leadership + Humor: Infallible Recipe for Better Results

Behavioral scientist Jennifer Aaker and bestselling author Naomi Bagdonas teach a class at Standford Business School about the power of humor in leadership. According to Aaker, humor is a teachable skill that shouldn't be underappreciated at work.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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Talking about humor is not a joke. That's why Aaker and Bagdonas' class gets the same academic credit as financial accounting. Aaker has spent all her life studying what actually creates happiness in life versus what we think. Meanwhile, Bagdonas has spent her career straddling the worlds of business and improv comedy. Then, why a behavioral scientist and a corporate strategist are giving lectures about humor in one of the most prestigious universities in the world? The answer is simple: The best leaders are the ones who take humor seriously.

According to Aaker and Bagdonas' research, "leaders with a good sense of humor are seen as 27% more motivating. Their teams are more bonded and creative." The best part of how humor benefits enterprises? Humor sells. During their research, the duo found studies that corroborated that a lighthearted line in a sales pitch makes people willing to pay over 15% more.

Laughter also makes people feel close to one another. For example, when strangers share a laugh before a conversation, they are more likely to open up and disclose more personal information. Also, both experts explained during their TED Talk how our brains release endorphins when we laugh. After having a good laugh, we feel calmer, our cortisol levels significantly drop, and we release dopamine.

The good news is that our lives are full of humor if we know how to look for it. One tip that the experts share it's instead of trying to look for what is funny, take a look at what's true. This excellent practice is not about becoming a comedian but about learning to look at the world differently and freshly.

Here the priming effect plays a fundamental role. This psychological principle says that our brains are wired to see what we've been set up to expect. What does this mean? Easy: We find what we choose to look for. When we positively interact with the world, all those happy vibes return to us. Now, let's take this philosophy to the workplace.

It's easier to believe that humor could betray us if we take our lives seriously. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. Aaker and Bagdonas agree that humor is a choice and a wonderful one. Hence, the balance between taking ourselves seriously and finding humor in life gives power to both. Naomi Bagdonas states, "we can do serious things without taking ourselves so seriously."

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On the other hand, some people are worried about how humor can be tricky these days. Being funny doesn't mean promoting xenophobia, racism, machismo, and all kinds of problematic "jokes." Humor can be empathetic and unite people with a good laugh. For this reason, many comedians practice safe sets and let their teams comment on their jokes before their shows.

Then, how can nonprofessional comedians practice safe sets? Both experts suggest recognizing that the joke is not made to make the person who tells it look good. Instead, ask yourself, "How will this make other people feel?" If it's a lighthearted comment in the middle of a heavy meeting or a way to improve the tense environment in the company, then it's the perfect time to make others laugh. Undoubtedly, humor is a powerful tool that leaders can use to connect better with others and positively impact the company's environment. For more information about this topic, check Aaker and Bagdonas' book, "Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (And how Anyone Can Harness It. Even You.)."

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