When It Comes To Humor

When It Comes To Humor

  1. Accept Every Offer.
  2. And Make Your Partner Look Good

The first rule of improvisational comedy is to accept every offer. Improv comedians do this by saying "yes and…” In other words, you never stop the flow of the routine.

“I can’t believe you went out with that aerobatic dancer last weekend!”
“Yes and I can’t believe that you agreed to be our chauffeur. The gloves were a nice touch..."

The second rule is to make your comedic partner look good. You never shoot them down. And always lift each other up with positivity. This creates a positive atmosphere to generate future possibilities.

In Peter Sims book, Little Bets, he writes, "Positive energy drives improvisation, and reduces inhibitions and doubts. By making each other look good, it’s easier for people to get in the zone. You can relax and be playful. You’re in the moment, and actively listening to each other, so that they can’t be planning what they’re going to say next. They have to stop thinking and be spontaneous. Improvisational techniques, therefore, can free us up from the risk aversion and emphasis on rigid procedures that predominate so many workplaces."

Since we’re talking about rules of improv, let’s also talk about humor. There are a host of studies that indicate humor creates positive group effects.

Many focus on how humor can increase cohesiveness and act as a lubricant to facilitate more efficient communications. For example, Pixar’s culture thrives on humor and positivity when fleshing out storylines.

Researchers have developed a general view that effective humor can increase the quantity and quality of group communications. One reason for this is that humor has also been demonstrated to increase trust.

Also in Little Bets, "In a widely cited study, Professor William Hampes examined the relationship between humor and trust among 89 college undergraduates ranging in age from 16 to 54 and found a significant correlation. The people who scored high on a test that measured sense of humor for social purposes, coping humor,...and humorous people were considered more trustworthy."

But keep this in mind when it comes to humor...

According to this study, humor must be considered funny to the people involved. It cannot be seen as demeaning, derogatory, or put-downs.

This finding is consistent with the underlying improvisation rationale for accepting every offer and making your partner look good.

Successful group humor, then, should affirm group identities in terms of: who we are, what we are doing, and how we do things.

With this in mind, here’s a little checklist you can use when it comes to humor:

  • Is it positive?
  • Does it make everyone look good?
  • Is it going to enhance and improve our team culture?
  • Is someone able to build on this statement (think Yes and…)?

If your humor doesn’t answer a huge YES to all four of those questions, then it’s not worthy to be spoken.

Who are you going to uplift today?

(photo via brian wolfe)