Just Joking: An introductory guide to a manager’s sense of humor

Having a good sense of humor is important for a manager. It shows the team you’re a real person, and not just an order shouting robot. I think some managers are confused about what they can and cannot joke about with direct reports, peers and supervisors. Sure, most people can use their common sense to stay away from race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc., but what about the rest of the stuff? Allow me to set the record straight.

A manager should never joke about…

…firing someone, i.e. “Pick up that pen for me or you’re fired. Just kidding.”

…firing someone else, i.e. “I sure took care of that jerk, didn’t I?”

…other direct reports in the form of gossip, i.e. “Your partner Suzy is crazy. You’ll never guess what she said to Bill.”

…someone’s physical attributes, i.e. “Boy, you sure are short, shorty.”

…what someone is wearing, i.e. “Sweet Wal-Mart tie.”

…customers, i.e. “Who do these customers think they are anyway?”

…struggling associates, i.e. “Who hired that moron anyway?”

…their boss in a potentially embarrassing group setting, i.e. “That’s the dumbest thing you’ve said all day boss, and it’s been a looong day.”

In most cases it’s probably OK to…

…make fun of yourself, i.e. “Hey! I figured it out. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

…make fun of your position, i.e. “I sure am beat. Managers aren’t used to actually working.”

…rib on other departments, i.e. “How about those bean-counters in accounting, eh?”

…poke fun of top performers in a way that props them up, i.e. “He’s going to need a bigger suitcase for all that money he’s making.”

Laugh, Clown, Laugh
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…joke about sports teams, i.e. “How bout those Red Sox. Better luck next year.”

A certain level of attention to self-preservation is a requirement to any successful management career. If you’re not sure whether or not what you’re about joke about is taboo, then error on the side of being a robot. Better to appear stiff today and live to joke another day.


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