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What Effect Does Management Humour Have On Problem-Solving?

As someone who likes to think of themselves as possessing a good sense of humour and the ability to use it well in management situations, my eye was caught by an article from Professor Robert Wood in Organizational Psychology Review.

Robert and his team presented a framework for analysing the role of humour in managerial communications, and I was particularly struck by the ideas contained within problem-solving and face to face meetings.

Managers are warned to be wary of using humour while introducing complex information. Research from mood studies suggests that humour influences the depth-processing of information; and positive humour may lead to effort-minimising, simpler strategies to solve problems. It seems you need to temper your natural sense of humour if you need your team to solve a problem that requires deeper and more complex processing. Although using humour asides will help maintain attention and, therefore, work better when communicating simpler information.

Research that shows how humour influences the framing of the problem during the early stages, indicates that there are advantages in using humour.  Just as great comedians make us laugh and reconsider things we take for granted, managers using similar strategies such as ambiguities, inconsistences and paradoxes can help us to reconsider and situations differently. The team proposes that the use of both positive and negative managerial humour about a situation at the early stages can improve problem solving by encouraging different framings or alternative definitions of the problem. If you want your team to consider other, less obvious options, lighten the mood.

Wood, R., Beckmann, N., & Rossiter, J. (2011). Management humor: Asset or liability? Organizational Psychology Review, 1 (4), 316-338 DOI: 10.1177/2041386611418393

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Laura Krikhaar , Editor of Occ Psy Dot Com. ••• You can read more about her on our editor's page, follow her on Twitter at @LauraKrikhaar, or see a list of all her articles at Occ Psy Dot Com.

One Comment

  1. Rebecca Quereshi
    Twitter: occupationalpsy
    Posted 12 February, 2012 at 2:24 PM | Permalink

    Brilliant post, enjoyed reading it. The topic is so interesting because we all encounter it so often! And there is much to balance when employing humour at work – taking care not to offend anyone, and – apparently – using it in the right situations so as not to hinder performance.