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Artwork by Stacy Nguyen

Don’t Listen to the HR Haters; Tell Your Jokes at Work

Written By Stacy Nguyen | Jul 3, 2018

I was paralyzingly shy as a child and had a lot of social anxiety through college. Then I joined the workforce and had to figure out how to knock that off so that I could do my job. My job at the time was in journalism, which involved the stuff of my then-nightmares: talking to people. Sometimes talking to people who didn’t want to talk to me at all, because they knew I just wanted to talk about their DUI.

Developing a dark sense of humor started as a way to cope with anxiety, to release some of the tension inside of me. Then the sense of humor expanded and just became how I communicate and reflects how I see the world.

There are professional development articles out there that talk about how we should be very careful about telling jokes in job interviews because doing so can alienate people who don’t get our senses of humor, sabotaging our chances of getting the job. There are even articles out there that talk about how we shouldn’t joke too much after we’ve gotten the job — and especially not about anything controversial like politics, race, or religion. There are people out there who will say that it’s probably okay to share a funny picture of a cat wearing a hat but definitely do not to talk about anything of actual substance because the employer does not want to contend with a lawsuit.

But I’m older now. I work for myself now. If my client fires me because I offended the crap out of them with an offhand joke — it’s cool. We’re probably not well matched.

Wrapping tough and complicated feedback in a gauze of wry jokes has been an excellent way to nudge people’s brains and to get them thinking deeper about what they want to communicate.

Displaying my sense of humor and having that reciprocated is very important to me these days. Here are some ways it comes in handy.

Humor is a window into someone else’s creative brain.

When I work with other writers, I want them to be smart as hell — and I want them to be the kind of people that make crazy connections between disparate things in novel ways that I haven’t thought of myself.

It’s hard to peel apart the folds of someone’s brain to see how they think. But it’s not that hard to listen to the way they joke around and read through the content and the construction of the joke. All of us have been around people that are clever as shit, with funny comments or ideas flying out of their face at a hundred miles an hour. Maybe they are just talking about a TV show they like or an incident that happened to them at a bus stop — but in these kinds of stories, we can detect people’s intelligence and the depth of their thinking as well as get a glimpse of their worldview. We can tell if someone is cynical, brave, earnest, or bold.

We can also tell — through bland, broad, boring jokes that rely too much on freaking puns — that a person would be great at writing about an art exhibit but would probably not be very good at writing about police brutality.

Humor bonds people together.

I have a number of people that I would bleed for. And they have all made me laugh really hard.

Humor is great for team-building and for fostering relationships among creatives. When we can joke together about our boss or our client or the work, we feel like we’re in the trenches together. Developing a shared sense of humor and a series of inside jokes between colleagues helps keep the working relationship between creative professionals from being too competitive — and let’s be real — this is a common issue.

Humor helps alleviate the weight of hard conversations.

Sometimes I want to have conversations with clients about ethnic representation or maybe a direction they want to head in might be seen as culturally insensitive — or maybe they are asking me to make something super phallic and I have to be like, “Dude, this is gonna look like a penis, and I don’t think toxic masculinity is where you wanna go with this,” in a way that keeps the work process efficient and the working relationship comfortable and full of trust.

Wrapping tough and complicated feedback in a gauze of wry jokes — for me — has been an excellent way to nudge people’s brains and to get them thinking deeper about what they want to communicate.

Humor relieves stress.

I love to rant. I love to bitch and moan and tell my colleagues convoluted stories about how I am going to slash someone’s tires during lunch and gaslight them into thinking that this crime against them is their own fault — because they dared to ask me to change the color of a font or something.

This might sound a little excessive, but it’s in stark contrast to what I used to do when I was younger, which was stew silently and internalized a loop of negative, angry thoughts until I was upset and unmotivated.

Expressing frustration through humor is a way to make it more palatable for other people to absorb. It’s important to me for my colleagues to hear about my pain, but I know long winded stories about how I am sure someone messed with my mind are labor-intensive and emotionally intensive to listen to. I like to make my pain as fun to listen to as possible, so that people will put up with listening to it.

And also, often in the middle of ranting, I tend to crack myself up. When I laugh in the middle of expressing frustration — oh my God — it feels like a balloon releasing air.

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