The 'Humour' In HR

The 'Humour' In HR

Humour is responsible for the chuckles, giggles, laughter and LOLs. And they have been broadly termed as laughter. Laughter is the best medicine and is available for free.


When the news spread that Pradip was coming for the meeting, their enthusiasm plummeted. Pradip’s presence would intensify all their meetings. He believed that the louder you speak, the better you are heard. But this meeting was different. Ravi, a new executive, was attending the meeting for the first time. Ravi sat next to Pradip. As usual, Pradip started screaming at the top of his voice. In reaction, Ravi covered his ear with his hand and cried, “I can’t hear from my left ear”. Everyone broke into laughter!


Humour is one of the most fundamental skills widely used to build great organisations. While I have been using this skill myself, I realised its relevance only a couple of years ago. An IIM student, involved in arranging several management lectures with CXOs told me, “All executives from good companies have one thing in common. All of them have a good sense of humour.”


I assumed that this was only a random observation. When I began exploring, I found an HBR article by Alison Beard (May 2014) which states that research from ‘serious’ institutes like Wharton, MIT and the London School of Business says that every incident of humour delivers a host of benefits to Business.


How does Humour help?


Humour is responsible for the chuckles, giggles, laughter and LOLs. And they have been broadly termed as laughter. Laughter is the best medicine and is available for free. Laughter affects humans in three distinct ways:


1. Improves Physical Health:Every time you laugh, your body reduces the levels of stress hormones like dopamine and releases endorphins. Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals of your body. In simple terms, they give you a feeling of overall well-being. They relax your muscles for up to 45 minutes and can even take away the sensation of pain temporarily. It also improves blood circulation and is therefore good for the heart. There is a reason as to why Kapil Sharma is so popular.


2. Improves Mental Health:When one is laughing, he/she does not experience sadness, anger or anxiety in that particular instant. However, endorphins do not limit the positivity during the timespan of the laugh and extend it even after the laugh. Laughing apart, even listening to other people laughing provides us with a feeling of hope and positivity. This is the reason behind the insertion of background laughter in comedy shows. Famous personalities like Navjot Sidhu and Archana Puran Singh are paid to be a ‘prime audience member’ to trigger a positive emotion in the minds of the audience.


3. Improves social interactions: Our social interactions complete us as human beings. At times, social interactions lead to conflict and create bitterness, especially in an organisational setting. The trick to this problem is shared laughter.


Shared laughter helps in lowering the guard. People become less defensive and are able to see things from the other’s perspective. That is how humour strengthens relationships, creates empathy, reduces conflicts and improves teamwork.


Why is Humour Needed?


1. Business (Life) is all about managing situations


Business gains when it serves its customers well. The formula to win over and serve customers has a direct correlation with the behaviour of the very people who make the business. We generally assume that we are in control of our businesses when we hire people with the best behaviour.


Interestingly, people behaviour is not a function of their genes or their personality. It depends on the people around them and the situation they are in. Situations are created by customers, suppliers, society, government and many other such stakeholders. If employees are able to handle situations well, an organisation thrives in general.


2. Situations demand Skills (like Humour)


Handling tricky situations is a skilful task. When an irate customer walks into your office, you first calm the customer down by offering some water and listening to him/her. This is one of the popular techniques to handle an irate customer. You, thereafter, dwell on common interests, origins and introduce humour to diffuse the situation. Besides diffusing the situation, humour also functions to develop a bond with the customer for commencing a long-term relationship with the brand.


Can Humour be learnt?


Some people believe that you need to be a stand-up comedian to learn or apply humour to situations. Humour is really just an amalgamation of the situational observations and timing, both of which being skills instinctively inherent in everyone. So really, if you are human, then you are capable of humour. Humour is a skill. That means it can be learnt.


How to be Humorous?


You do not need to remember jokes to be humorous. That is not what it requires. Here are the 3 most easy methods to be humorous:-


1. Start with a Smile, Share Laughter: Humour begins with a smile. Exchange a smile. If you can laugh, it is even better. Laughter is contagious. For example, take Baccha Yadav from the Kapil Sharma show. He cracks a joke and then laughs his lungs out. People do not always laugh at his jokes, they laugh with him on his laughter. It is important to share laughter.


2. Start watching a comedy show (Create a reference point): Start following a comedy channel or a comedy show. It can be Kapil Sharma, Mr Bean, or Arnab Goswami! Honestly, it does not matter who you follow. This creates a reference point. You can recommend the channel with the people you interact with, after which you can create references from that show and laugh on the common knowledge of humour.


3. Your own stories: When I was studying at INSEAD, I went to Singapore for coursework. My phone did not work in Singapore. I found a technician after a week and told him my sob story about surviving without connectivity for 7 days. He looked at the phone, then he looked at me. Then he asked, “Why have you put the SIM card in the opposite direction?” This was my first story. When you tell your own stories, your candidness makes them humorous.


When should Humour be used?


This is sheer discipline. Like any other skill, humour needs practice. Here is the prescription for using humour.


1. Three times a day: Like any medicine prescribed by a doctor, make it a practice to use humour at least three times a day.


2. Once in every meeting: Whether you are in a meeting or a call, spread the essence of your laughter, reference or a personal story.


3. When things are serious: When things are going pretty intense, even an icebreaker like, “Itna sannata kyon hai bhai?” from Sholay, or addressing the elephant in the room in a candid way can do the magic.


Harjeet Khanduja is an International speaker, poet, inventor, influencer, HR Leader and author of the best-selling book "Nothing About Business". An alumnus of IIT Roorkee and INSEAD, he is currently working as Vice President HR at Reliance Jio. He has 2 published patents and has been conferred with the HR Leadership Award, Pride of the Nation Award, HR Personality of the Year, Top 100 HR Minds, Global Digital Ambassador and Global Learning Award.


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