should I have more of a sense of humor at work?

A reader writes:

As a leader myself, I’ve been watching how other leaders interact with each other at my organization. They can joke around with each other, tease each other, and just generally interact with each other in that kind of lighthearted way. I’ve never been good at casually joking with people, but it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. I feel impatient when other people are joking around in meeting settings and uncertain how to respond when someone tries to jokingly/teasingly engage with me. I could be incorrect that being perceived to have a sense of humor is important to my success, but it feels important, although I wish it didn’t.

I generally hate teasing and often am not very successful at riffing or coming up with responses to jokes from people I don’t know very well, so while it’s not limited to work, I mostly only wish I could participate in that type of banter when I’m at work because I would like to be someone who can be at ease in any professional situation. Sometimes I can feel the impatient look on my face as I wait for people to stop joking around so we can get on with things and I am sure if I can feel it, other people can see it! Do you have any ideas?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 149 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    A lot of it is environmental. I didn’t like my colleagues at my last job so the jokes grated. Now I like them so I let my humor show more.

    I’d say that if you get along with them, allow them to see this side of you if you can do it without too much effort. And if they are getting their jobs done, just focus on other things when they joke if you don’t feel comfortable opening up

    1. Le Sigh*

      This is a good point. I love to joke and have a few light moments with colleagues. But I had one dysfunctional job where the jokes often took the form of executives or leadership making jokes that bordered on or were outright rude or inappropriate. I didn’t like any of them so I kept my head down and focused on the meeting so I could get out of there asap.

    2. sookie st james*

      It can be hard for people to calibrate what sides of themselves even exist, let alone where they feel comfortable showing them. I love joking around but I’m socially anxious and just can’t always rely on that part of my personality to appear even when I wish it would. Sometimes my brain is on ‘work mode’ and I can’t switch it off.

      My awkward-person top tip for how to come across as warm in these situations is to ask questions. You could ask something off the back of whatever funny anecdote was shared (e.g., smiling, ‘oh when did that happen?’). You can initiate the friendliness before the joke-starting starts, so you’re participating and seeming warm without having to navigate jokes you don’t feel comfortable with/aren’t included in. They can be super simple e.g: ‘how was your weekend?’ / ‘has everyone seen [insert current affairs event]?’ / ‘Any special plans for the holidays?’’

      Similarly, take up space in the conversation when it’s offered – when asked how you are, don’t just say you’re fine, say something you’re looking forward to on the weekend or ‘melting in this heat, what about you?’ (they don’t have to be negative but camaraderie is often built on sharing minor complaints).

      As Alison said, you can factor it into your meeting prep and schedule so it’s less anxiety-inducing, and you can even gamify it in your head by giving yourself a participation goal or aiming to learn something new about one of your colleagues each meeting. You might feel strange about launching new behaviours when people aren’t used to it, but you can start small (like initiating ‘how are yous’) and work your way up to feeling comfortable with chit-chat.

      1. Lalala*

        “Take up space in the conversation” — I like that phrasing. It took me a while to feel comfortable doing this, but especially when you’re interacting with people virtually (where you don’t take up *any* physical space!) intentionally participating in conversations is so important for building relationships with colleagues.

  2. badgerbadger*

    I’m also like this! I find that smiling while the banter is happening goes a long way, it shows that I’m engaged even if I’m not participating.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      I’m similar, too! I’ve never been good at teasing in general. It just wasn’t something my family did a lot. But I can see when others enjoy it. Personally, I don’t like being teased and I’m always afraid I will misjudge when doing the teasing to someone else and take it too far.

      If I can find a way to slip in my own sense of humor, I do. I also make general nice small talk as the meeting is opening, asking after hobbies and family (when appropriate) and that seems to be enough that I’m pretty well liked by my coworkers.

    2. Sally*

      I agree. Alison’s suggestion to smile or chuckle, etc. is really helpful for me. I very often find things funny, but nothing on my face changes, and I don’t always laugh, so people think I didn’t find it funny. I can make myself smile and show more of my response on my face, and I think that will be better for my interactions with people.

    3. Ghostess*

      I agree with this and use it in similar circumstances: I have colleagues who are native or fluent in a language that I am only conversational at, so sometimes they say something that I know is a joke/bon mot but I don’t quite “get it” (word I don’t know, unfamiliar turn of phrase or meaning, cultural reference, et cetera).

      In these circumstances, I’ve found that a small smile that reaches my eyes (kind of squinting the outside corners of my eyes which raises my cheekbones up) is a good default “passively amused” face to not interrupt the banter but also not draw me into it.

      1. Angstrom*

        When travelling for work, I’ve been in meetings where I don’t speak the language and the social chat isn’t translated for me. That’s ok. I try to follow the tone of the conversations, and smile when they’re clearly enjoying themselves. I’m glad they’re having a good time, and I’m genuinely pleased knowing that they’ll be in a good mood when we go back to the business discussion.

    4. Hannah Lee*

      That’s a great, and simple to try, idea.

      I do wonder a bit at the way the OP characterized themself as being “impatient” when others are joking. It may help to explore what’s at the root of that impatience, if there are particular circumstances or people that trigger it more than others. The impatience could be there for a real and valid reason. (For example, if you’re discussing something urgent, important and your employees aren’t taking it seriously. Or an employee is trying to deflect responsibility with poor attempts at humor) But I had a manager once who had zero time for anything that wasn’t 100% work focused and would ice up at even 30 seconds of banter because “I’m not paying people to chat” His impatience sprung from an expectation that workers should be 100% on and focused 100% on All Work Things All the Day, which isn’t how most humans human.

      1. GlitterIsEverything*

        I know I get impatient with it comes to leaders making jokes before a meeting.

        The leaders in my company have a tendency to use inside jokes with each other while waiting for a meeting to start. Not the inside jokes that reference a shared event necessarily, but more that rely on shared knowledge that isn’t shared with other meeting attendees. Think jokes based on their college’s various sports teams and rivalries, or that might be based on a conversation from the last couple of weeks. There’s also a distinct tone that others aren’t allowed to join in, which creates a very clique-like feeling, separating leaders from staff.

        It’s awkward, and if OP is a newer leader, I can certainly understand how it might feel difficult to break into that conversation, which could easily turn into impatience with the whole scenario.

  3. Snow Globe*

    In general, I think showing a sense of humor at work can signal that you are friendly and approachable. People will be more likely to seek you out for advice or alert you to problems if they see you as a warm, friendly person.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Depends on the type of humor, in my experience. I had a previous manager who I avoided specifically because they were constantly teasing people, which made me very uncomfortable. I like to think that I have a sense of humor, but I’m not up for “roasting” coworkers (and bosses!) or being roasted, thank you. Just witnessing that behavior in a professional environment made me defensive.

      1. Tau*

        It was interesting that OP conflated that, because I draw a pretty sharp line between teasing and joking. Teasing, to me, is saying things that are on the face of them negative or potentially hurtful but in a way that’s not meant to be taken seriously which seems… like it can backfire really badly. The only people I’d consider teasing are close friends, in a relaxed situation, where I’m very confident it won’t come across badly and also confident that if I misjudge they’ll feel comfortable letting me know. I would certainly not do it at work. I make jokes a ton, though! They’re just never ones that put down whoever I’m talking with – more typically about making light of or highlighting the absurdity in a problem we’re facing as a team.

        1. Despachito*

          This is exactly how I perceive it, too.

          I’d be VERY, VERY careful at teasing, because of what you just said – you must be able to perfectly read the room and know the person very well, or it can backfire horribly, just as you say. A friendly teasing banter sounds very nice in movies but in real life it is pretty risky. And some people say they are teasing someone but their target sees it rather as bullying.

          Same as you, I prefer joking along the way “we are in this together” to teasing. And what works wonders on me (and I think on most people) is if someone reminds in a relaxed situation something that made the other person shine. (“The other day a client yelled at Wakeen that he did not receive the model teapot, and Wakeen, deadpan, pulls out of his bag not one but three different models. I wish you had seen the client’s face!)

        2. Scarlet2*

          Totally agree. Unless you know someone very well, what feels like harmless teasing to you can feel hostile or even insulting to them. It’s a really thin line to walk and I think it generally doesn’t belong in the office.

        3. JustaTech*

          Yes to this!
          Yesterday I very gently teased my new-ish coworker because all of her jackets are swag from one of our competitors (the one that some people in upper management are still in a snit over). It was partly because I genuinely thought it was funny (ha, look, we got someone from them after they took everyone from us!) and partly to warn her that some people might respond badly to seeing clothes from that specific company. (And then I offered to try to find her a jacket with our logo to wear in place of that one, though honestly hers is much nicer.)

          But that was 1) very gentle, 2) about something that could instantly be changed, 3) also a warning about something she couldn’t have otherwise known.

          As someone who was often the subject of teasing in school (it’s just really easy to set me off, and I’ve got a lot of targets for teasing), that’s as far as I would *ever* take it, at work or with friends.

    2. Dinwar*

      Not just that, it shows a level of not being stressed. For management, this is important. If you appear stressed your team will be even more stressed. If you’re calm enough to make the occasional joke, the team realizes everything is under control and you’re doing fine. This has been used by various militaries in various ways to manage troop morale; it’s not an insignificant factor.

      1. Skyblue*

        That’s so interesting! I have seen this dynamic play out at my own workplace, but I hadn’t realized it until I read your comment.

  4. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    LW, in addition to feeling comfortable with how others interact, it’s important to be comfortable with yourself as someone who operates differently. So when others are joking and you’re not into it, don’t feel that you’re “supposed to” be like them; that just adds to the discomfort. Just follow Allison’s suggestions for easing the friction.

    You can then see things as Person A likes to wear bright colors and I don’t, Person B likes to talk about their kids’ activities and I don’t, Person C keeps their desk immaculate and I don’t. Different strokes for different folks, and everyone does what works for them while still being professional and pleasant.

  5. Porpoise*

    I never know how to respond to teasing because extreme literalness is one of my spectrum traits. I deal with not understanding teasing by being casually upfront about how literal I am. I don’t make it a big deal, I will just ask someone if they meant what they said and say I can’t always tell when people are joking or not. The key is to be comfortable saying that in an offhand manner. Try practicing! Write yourself some scripts and practice saying them until you can say them naturally.

    So far, I have not had anyone push the teasing once I have said that I have a hard time distinguishing. Since I am spectrum, I have a ready script pointing this out in case someone does push it. I recommend also having a script in case someone does not let up once you say you can’t tell if they mean it or not. Again, the key is to just be straightforward and factual about how you don’t understand.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I feel like teasing falls into a different category than joking.
      Humour that is at the expense of someone (unless someone is making fun of themselves) can really make the subject uncomfortable.

      1. Hydrangea*

        A number of folks down thread have talked about teasing and how variable the responses to it can be. It’s a fair point. I think if someone is in a teasing environment, as LW says they are, but doesn’t really get it, as LW says they don’t, it’s good advice to come up with ways to elegantly avoid it.

  6. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    People need to relieve stress in different ways. For some people it’s getting through the meeting faster in order to get back to work they need to do. For others, it’s taking the time to have these lighter moments. Neither really is “better” than the other (or any other option), it’s just that appropriateness depends on the situation and the general company culture.

    I’m also wondering if Allison’s going to need to pull the, “no armchair diagnosis” card on this comment section.

    1. El+l*

      Agree and agree.

      Here’s the nub IMHO: What does “at ease” mean to you? A particular form of this question is, are you (a) The type who just wants to get through the task and then relax? Or are you (b) The type who wants to relax and relieve stress while they work? They’re two distinct philosophies – for example, my wife is (a) and I am (b).

      Point: OP you don’t need to be funny if you aren’t funny, and definitely not when you’re task-focused. But they and you can meet halfway at least on relaxation while working – if they get too into banter, you can say “Getting back to it…” and if they find little ways to bleed off stress than you can accept that. That’s fair, that works.

  7. FashionablyEvil*

    The other thing that can help is reframing some of the banter (within reason*) as “work.” Positive social interactions really are a part of building good relationships which in turn makes work easier. Just because it isn’t a discrete task or an agenda item to be checked off doesn’t make it not “work.”

    *I define “within reason” to be 5-10 minutes at the beginning of a meeting, depending on how long it’s been since people have met, what’s on the agenda, etc. YMMV.

    1. ferrina*

      Yes! This is really true- most roles really benefit from having positive rapport. It eases flow of information, prioritization, and efficiency. My whole job revolves around rapport- there’s a lot of informal informational channels that I need to tap into, and people are more likely to offer information if they like and trust you (note that liking and trusting are two different things). That said, forcing a joke isn’t going to add to likability, so lean into authenticity when building connection.

      1. Victorina*

        I find it very hard to like or trust people who waste my time with so-called banter, honestly. It puts my back up and makes me feel they don’t value my time or effort.

        1. T. Boone Pickens*

          Lol what? Let me get this straight, you don’t trust people who make small talk at the office? Okkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

          1. Retired to Morning Room to Write My Letters*

            This comment comes off as quite aggressive to me… Maybe you could listen for a bit instead of leaping for the jugular? This person isn’t criticising you personally, they’re just talking about a feeling they have.

        2. Taco Cat*

          That’s an intense reaction to feel unvalued if someone tries to joke for a minute but a good reminder for different strokes.

          I don’t work well when people don’t show a little personality at work, I’m not a robot who just shows up how work and that’s the only thing on my mind. I find it hard to build networks with people who are only work minded.

        3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          Perhaps you could attempt to re-frame the banter from “time wasting”/disrespect of effort into “relationship building”/respect of humanity.

          When people engage in small talk, or especially when they’re joking around and displaying camaraderie, it’s an act to convey “I like you/these people as fully formed humans. You are not just a cog in the corporate machine to me.”

          Of course there comes a point and do exist circumstances where joking around or chit chatting does become disrespectful regardless of intent. Taking up huge chunks of a meeting to the point where additional meetings need to be scheduled to cover missed agenda items, or if the banter is only high-level people and excludes lower level people who are simply waiting for the meeting to begin. But if you’re talking about 5-10 minutes of inclusive banter? That’s soft skills in action, which are just as valid as the hard skills.

        4. Kella*

          Banter is usually intended to mean the opposite, actually. If someone is bantering with you, it means they want to connect with you, they want to have a good working relationship with you, and likely they value *you* in addition to your work. Sure, there is such a thing as mean-spirited banter but that’s about how you do it, not whether you do it. Something to consider is that if people are attempting to banter with you and you react negatively and shut things down, they may interpret that to mean that you don’t value or like them, or you don’t want to work with them.

        5. FashionablyEvil*

          Right, hence the “YMMV.” If I were meeting with someone like you who I knew didn’t appreciate small talk and just wanted to get down to business, I’d say hello/hope you had a good weekend or whatever and then dive right in. As others have pointed out below, there’s still room to be warm/welcoming even if you don’t really want to engage in chitchat. But for larger groups, the social interaction can be really helpful and is, to an extent, somewhat unavoidable–humans are by nature, social creatures.

        6. Dinwar*

          Office chit-chat is an informal means of dispersing information. Some information can’t be dispersed via official channels–no one is going to send an email saying “The boss and his wife are fighting, tread lightly”, but it’s extremely common in watercooler chats. And it’s useful information! If I know my boss is having a bad day I’m going to put off a conversation with him, or at least adjust my approach. Some information simply hasn’t made it through official channels yet. This is one reason (a cynical one) to be nice to cleaning staff: They know EVERYTHING, and if you treat them with respect they’ll tell it to you. Sometimes things get lost in official channels–I’ve seen casual conversations identify such things, which saved the company time, money, and reputation. It’s important to have a second system of communication as a check against official channels, important enough that nearly every company encourages this by providing opportunities for it (water coolers, coffee pots, break rooms…). Some communication works better informally. I’ve offered someone a promotion informally at a bar before (it was a jobsite where everyone went to the bar Saturday night, since Sunday was our only day off), because it would be easier for the person to reject it without feeling pressured if I approached it as “Oh, hey, since I ran into you…”

          I’ll add that interpersonal relationships are more important in some fields than others. Eating lunch together and chatting about MMOs and the like with your team turns you from a generic, interchangeable worker to a person. When your life depends on that team (say, a group of biologists doing a field survey in the wilderness) you really, really, REALLY want them to have reasons to watch your back. And casual chit-chat is used to evaluate each other’s condition–you can tell how a person’s feeling, if they’re getting dehydrated or too tired or whatever, fairly easily in a conversation, especially if you have a baseline.

          My point is, far from being a waste of time, casual conversation is part of business and serves a number of important functions.

        7. Joanna*

          I can be chatty and enjoy banter, but I like to try and focus on relationship building, and in my experience, it’s pretty easy to figure out who is at work to get their work done and don’t want to be bothered with their body language and behavior while you are talking to them. I try to respect that. I mean, that’s what relationships are about. It just seems respectful to notice those cues and take them into consideration in how you interact with people.

        8. Sylvan*

          Banter is what people use to decide whether they want to get into deeper, more “valuable” conversation with you. So you might find that, instead of reacting defensively, putting up with small talk gets you into more of the conversations you enjoy.

        9. NotAnotherManager!*

          I think it’s fine not to like banter, but I would definitely try to reframe this thinking to not project that kind of negative intent/disrespect for you onto your coworkers. You are the outlier in this situation, and the intent you’re assuming they have is unusual and unnecessarily negative. You don’t have to enjoy the banter or participate in it, but it’s much easier to work with people when you’re not assuming the worst of what is a perfectly normal behavior for the majority of people.

          I say this as the introvertiest of introverts who would be happy to do my job without the social rituals that come along with it. You have your preference; they have theirs. Each can be respected without your assuming they are out to waste your time/effort and their assuming that you’re irrationally negative and self-important.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      One of my past managers started the meeting with 25 minutes of banter, and then interrupted each of the agenda items with additional banter. My interview ran 2 hours over, and my first ever team meeting ran 45 minutes over when it was scheduled for 30 minutes.

      It was agonizing.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Oh yeah, this is rough. I love banter, I love chit chat. I do not enjoy having my boss basically take over a meeting and turn it into amateur night at a comedy club, and chew up my work time.

  8. DML OKC*

    I needed this letter and the response. I get very impatient when there’s work to be done and I have to hear yet another fishing story, for funny story from 1984. With Alison’s tips, and reasons to back them up, I think I can better manage these interactions. Thanks so much!

  9. Essentially Cheesy*

    I am not a total clown but I did joke with the controller in my office about not wanting to look at utility bills .. and he didn’t either. So it’s small moments like that, which are really nice. A person doesn’t have to be over-the-top funny but it’s good to find a relatable spot occasionally.

    I think it’s been difficult for many (especially in-person workers) to team build and it’s those small moments that I think count.

  10. BRR*

    I don’t think you need to have a sense of humor as much as a sense of warmth. A lot of people like to feel like they’re not working with robots, and that’s a big part of what’s going on when people are joking. I would try and think of it as “how do I participate in this as a way that’s authentically me?”

    1. anona-ope*

      Exactly. I don’t need (or want, really) to work with a comedian but it’s nice to have a sense that my colleagues are “people” outside of “colleagues” if that makes sense. So much of the history of professionalism is about shutting down any humanness at work. It develops camaraderie and a sense of team to know we’re both annoyed at the broken printer or excited about pretzel day, and joking is a human way to sort of tentatively insert that humanness into situations where it’s not otherwise welcome (see: the evolutionary development of laughing as a way to display that danger has passed)

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        I think you’ve both hit the nail on the head – it’s a sense of warmth that’s important.
        I find myself generally being a relationship oriented person day to day but when it’s busy I can shift to becoming extremely task oriented and I’ve realised it can be disconcerting for colleagues.

        A 30-60 second catch up at the beginning of a short meeting or a few mins before or longer one are a great way to get to build relationships with colleagues. However if someone is going to be wasting my time chatting for 20 mins of a 30 min meeting I’m going to be super irritated.

        I have to say this post reminds me of the one from a person who worked in an office that banned jokes and they got reported for making a printer taking ages joke.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          “I find myself generally being a relationship oriented person day to day but when it’s busy I can shift to becoming extremely task oriented and I’ve realised it can be disconcerting for colleagues.”

          I’m the same way around a monthly deadline that I have. I’m generally relationship oriented and (before my team went fully remote) various people would come to my office to chat or or run something work-related by me in a casual way before getting more serious about it.

          I was open and receptive except for that one day a month or perhaps the day prior, and people were confused that I was being more guarded with my time. When I realized it was disconcerting for them, I just made it explicit: I would be regrettably unavailble for casual chats on the last two days of the month. I put would close my door and put up a sign that I was working on the monthly deadline, and it seemed to make people more comfortable.

    2. Joielle*

      Yes, this. I’m not great at quips or comebacks and I downright hate pranks, but I am warm and friendly, which I think is essential to being effective in many jobs. I smile at jokes, remember people’s kids’ names, ask how their weekend was, etc. My advice to the OP is that if any part of your job involves asking people to do things or relying on knowledge you get from other people, it’s worth it to cultivate a friendly demeanor even if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I’m the same way, although I’m not good at remembering the names of kids I’ve never met. Even if puns have been said to be the lowest form of wit, they’re the only jokes that I tend to share at work.

        I hate pranks, and I’m really glad they aren’t a thing at my office. They’re often mean-spirited, and even relatively innocuous ones, like wrapping someone’s monitor in bubble wrap or putting post-it notes on everything require cleaning up afterwards, and that wastes time as well as office supplies that presumably could be used for their intended purpose.

  11. PleaseNo*

    This reminds of the age-old debate of the “How are you?” question and how to respond to that.

    I view both as a necessary evil in the context of a job.

    1. Kella*

      I found it much easier to deal with that question when I learned that many cultures have a specific function of language (I forget the term) where there are certain phrases you say at the beginning of an interaction to signal “Hi! I’m friendly and non-threatening and I’d like to interact with you in a positive way,” and similarly other phrases you say at the end of a conversation to mean, “This was a good interaction that is now ending and I still consider you a positive connection.” The phrases themselves do not literally mean what they say but they fill an important social purpose. So now I view saying those phrases as like inserting a token, and in exchange, I get a friendly connection with someone.

      1. Tricksie*

        When I first studied abroad in Beijing, I didn’t understand that the question, “Have you eaten yet?” was one of these. You’re just supposed to say, “Yes, I ate” or “Not yet.” It’s not an invitation to explain what you’re eating, where you’re eating, when you’re eating, and it’s not an invitation to go and eat with the person. I was VERY confused at first and saying all sorts of things that must have seemed really bizarre to native speakers.

        1. Despachito*

          How interesting!

          I have read that a slight modification of this (What are you cooking today?) is said instead of “Hi” between women of Gypsy communities, and the real meaning is “Do you have food today, or do you need me to help and give you some?”

          I just read it so I do not know how this works in practice and what the correct answer should be, but I like to think of it as of a deeper interest in my fellow human, making sure she and her family are not starving, and being prepared to help if it is not the case.

          1. MF*

            Interesting! “How are you?”, “Have you eaten yet”?, and “What are you cooking today?” all seem to be coded ways of something, “Fellow human, I care about your well being!”

            1. Ariaflame*

              The Terry Pratchett YA series Truckers, Diggers and Wings (aka The Bromeliad) had a snippet where one of the characters was explaining to, let’s call it a magic box for now, that what these words meant was ‘I am alive, and so are you’.

            1. Despachito*

              I did not know that, and definitely did not mean it like that! I am not an English native speaker and I considered it to be a normal name.

              I googled it, and it seems that they prefer Romani/Roma, so I will stick to that. Thanks for letting me know!

      2. Tau*

        Yes, this!

        A story I’ve told before in the comments section – I’m on the spectrum and the thing that actually made small talk click to me (and finally allowed me to respond non-literally to “how are you?”) was an undergraduate linguistics class in which the professor talked about theories for how language had developed. One of the leading ones being that it originated as a replacement for grooming behaviour as a social bonding ritual in primates: instead of spending hours picking lice out of each other’s fur in order to reaffirm that we are members of the same social group and have a connection to each other, we talk to each other instead.

        Which is why you have these ritualized interactions where the content is not important but the fact that you are participating is important; if you don’t play along with the “how are you?” or overtly reject the light-hearted banter everyone else is participating in, you’re doing the human equivalent of turning your back and forcing the other primate to deal with their lice themselves. We’re a social species and this raises all sorts of alarm bells – “wait, are they rejecting me from the tribe? are they not part of the tribe? do I need to cast out the infiltrator?” You really, really don’t want to trigger those instincts if you can avoid it.

        1. Despachito*

          Yes! Exactly this.

          And it helped me too to reframe what would otherwise be pretty meaningless as meaning “I recognize you, fellow human, as a person of worth, and I want you to see I am friendly and want to cooperate.”

      3. Claire W*

        Yes! Where I live we often say “I’ll let you go…” when we’re signialling that we’re ready to end the conversation, but not unhappy about the conversation or topic. If you take it literally it’s someone saying they want to stop taking up your time and let you move on with your day, but really it’s more of a “ok I need to end the conversation but everything’s good and our relationship is good” kind of indicator, compared to something like “I’m done talking about this” which is so negative.

    2. TPS reporter*

      that question annoys me when it comes from people I talk to frequently. they should be able to think of something more creative (me teasing a little). if I know the person well I will say a teasing comment back like- I’ve been worse. or not as bad as so and so who was in that meeting yikes!

      1. philmar*

        I have an ex who would ask me “how are you” and I would respond with like, something about my day, or something unrelated, and he would get so mad because I didn’t answer the question. And I was thinking, it wasn’t a question requiring a response, it was the invitation to begin a conversation. He would also get mad that I wouldn’t respond “and how are you?” because I figured if he had something interesting happen, he would tell me, and if the answer was “fine” why would I care? Not that I didn’t care if his day was fine or not, just that I thought we were beyond that conversational gambit and he still wanted to “perform” it, which bored the shit out of me.

        1. TPS reporter*

          right? it’s so weird when it’s someone you live with/see every day. I say “sup” to my partner to indicate- you are in the room and I’m acknowledging that. I don’t really want to know what’s up.

  12. PleaseNo*

    This reminds of the age-old debate of the “How are you?” question and how to respond to that.

    I view both as a necessary evil in the context of a job. I do the dance and move on.

  13. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I know people use “sense of humor” to mean “is funny,” but sense of humor also means “shows amusement.” (And I actually dislike/distrust people who crack jokes but don’t laugh at other people’s jokes). So I’d echo the advice to find a way to smile at the jokes and enjoy the banter without necessarily having to participate other than as a spectator.

  14. snarkfox*

    I used to struggle with this a lot, and it was because of my intense social anxiety. I could laugh and joke with friends, but with people I didn’t know well (like coworkers), my mind would just go completely blank and I’d just try to smile and laugh awkwardly without being able to join in.

    I’m no longer so anxious in social situations, so I can usually feel comfortable with others and laugh and joke along with everyone else. But occasionally, especially with people I don’t know well, I can easily flip into “task oriented mode” and forget to just… kind of chill?

  15. Sharper*

    I’m seeing a lot of like-minded comments, so here’s an alternative perspective. I’m a jokester! Sometimes I feel like my jokey self gets out of control, and I’m hard on myself about it later. However, recently at a in-person work event, I had the opportunity to present some prizes, and I really let loose. And then like six people came up to me and told me what a good job I did!

    So basically I’m hilarious. Teasing isn’t a good kind of joke, though.

    1. Le Sigh*

      “Teasing isn’t a good kind of joke, though.” I realize there are an array of opinions on teasing, but I don’t think this is a universal rule. But it is a form of humor you need to be careful with. I grew up with a family of self-deprecators who like to tease, and it can be fun. But you have be conscious and respectful of your audience — don’t tease anyone who doesn’t care for it (be it your sister, your friend, or anyone else), be careful with what you tease someone about, especially at work, and don’t let it go on too long, even with eager participants, and stop immediately if they’re done. For some of us it’s a form of bonding when everyone is on board, but it can devolve into people feeling picked on. I think people don’t realize they’ve taken it too far and get defensive (or use teasing as an excuse to take it too far and then act innocent), which is not okay.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, teasing is similar to pranks (because pranks often are a form of teasing). When pranks have come up on AAM before, there are a lot of commenters who say “pranks are always mean-spirited and never belong in the office.” I’m more aligned with your view on teasing, Le Sigh. Teasing (and pranks) can be fun and light-hearted for all involved but people should use them carefully (and doubly so in an office) because not everyone likes them.

        1. Filosofickle*

          In my mind the challenge with teasing is it’s almost impossible to know someone’s inner thoughts and what they actually find harmless or funny. There are plenty of things you could tease me about and it would be fine because it’s not a sensitive topic — for example, that I’m short. Tease away! Who cares? But there are aspects of my person/personality that might seem equally innocuous, but that I am super sensitive about –and probably don’t want you to know I’m sensitive about so I may have even joked about it myself. If you tease me about one of those, even in the lightest way, instant shame. Yes I should have a thicker skin, I’m working on it, but there are just things we struggle with and we can’t always tell from the outside so best to tread lightly.

          1. ferrina*

            There’s also power dynamics and cultural dynamics at play. Think about whether someone is in a position to push back if they don’t like the teasing. For example, if you hold power over someone (even if you’re a senior person), they will feel more pressured to laugh along rather than say that they are uncomfortable. Women are often taught through society that saying “I don’t like that” can become dangerous (“Well I was just joking! What are you, the joke police?”….which is a very aggressive response for a ‘joke’), so a women will be less likely to speak up as a form of self protection.
            At work, I infinitely prefer the more generic puns, dad jokes or gentle self-deprecating jokes to directed teasing.

            1. Le Sigh*

              I have seen this play out in families, too. The younger kid who doesn’t like teasing but the aunts/uncles/parents call them “sensitive” instead of, you know, listening to what their kid is trying to tell them and respecting that not everyone likes it.

              1. bookworm*

                ohhh yes. Everyone in my family has an old family story they get teased for, often something that happened in childhood. In my case I got teased for something that happened when I was under the age of 5. It took until my thirties to convey to my family that the incident had not happened the way they remembered it and was actually a story about me not being listened to at the time. Super fun thing to get teased about for 25+ years, under pressure of being a “good sport”…

              2. Good+Enough+For+Government+Work*

                Yeah, we have to be careful with this in my family. My mother and I tease each other hard, so much so that we usually don’t do so in public because if you don’t know neither of us means it we sound incredibly cruel — literally to the point that my loving nickname for my mother includes an abbreviated form of the word ‘bitch’.

                My kid brother, on the other hand, absolutely cannot tolerate any form of teasing at all — which is absolutely fine, but we’ve had to learn to be careful not to sort of accidentally overspill and forget our audience.

              3. Scarlet2*

                Yeah, that’s why I tend to keep my guard up in a teasing environment, I’ve seen it devolve into meanness and peer pressure to laugh along for fear of being seen as a “buzzkill” way too often.
                I wouldn’t go so far as saying it *never* belongs in an office, but… I would still say practically never? There are just too many factors at play and too many incentives for people to not speak up if they’re uncomfortable.

      2. Storm in a teacup*

        I think there’s cultural mores at play here. Being British our humour is very self-depecrating. However working in a global organisation, I think some of our American colleagues find it a little shocking.

        1. Susan Calvin*

          Oh dear, yeah – I’ve learned not to be self-deprecating where the Americans can hear. Unless I *want* an earnest pep talk about being more self confident, which I guess we can all use sometimes!

        2. A Person*

          This is really interesting, I had a (US-based) person who tended to say self-deprecating things a lot and I actually gave feedback on it! Now I’m wondering if they worked with a British team before. Something I should consider in the future.

          That said, it always seemed odd to me when they said something self-deprecating and then immediately praised someone else… always seemed to undercut the praise.

          1. Le Sigh*

            I’ve been thinking a bit about this, because I’ve known a lot of self-deprecating types as an American, so I never thought about it as something Americans don’t do (I certainly do). But then, I’m aware that as funny as I find it, you have to watch how far you take it. People (in my case, Americans) get uncomfortable and think you’re crapping on yourself, and find it awkward to be around someone who seems down on themselves or can’t take a compliment. We are big on self-esteem here. I don’t think anyone is wrong just ruminating on it a bit.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              The people I’ve seen use self-deprecating humor successfully tend to do it about something that they and everyone else knows they’re good at. Mostly I’ve seen it from people in leadership or power positions at work, who will open a meeting with some light wisecrack at their own expense, but everyone knows they don’t lack confidence in that area.

              If someone makes a deprecating remark about something that they are suspected to actually lack confidence in, then people become concerned and feel the need to boost them up, but that only happens with peers, not people who are socially or or work-hierarchically better off.

            2. Despachito*

              This is a useful insight, thank you!

              I find the self-deprecation thing difficult to navigate. I do not like to do it myself, and if others do it, I often cringe. The kind I tolerate is when I know that the person doing it is normally confident and only says how they messed up to encourage others without feeling really inferior. What gets my hackles up is when I get the impression that the self-deprecating person has low self-esteem because then it is sort of a second-hand embarassment and feels like they want you to do some emotional work for them.

        3. Baroness Schraeder*

          Yes, the two styles are quite different. Here in New Zealand I grew up watching British comedy so the styles of humour I find funny are ridiculous non-sequiturs (Monty Python) and deadpan sarcasm (Black Books) that Americans just don’t seem to know how to react to. On the other hand, I don’t find American humour amusing at all so I’m grateful all their comedy shows have fake laughter tracks so I can identify which parts the writers intended to be funny.

          Now that American culture has infiltrated everything here, I find it safer just to stick with terrible dad jokes instead. (I’m pretty good at those, even though I’m not a dad. I guess you could call me a faux pa.)

      3. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, it’s really the kind of humor where you need to know the person and how they feel about teasing in general and the thing you’re teasing about in particular. Like, I’ll tease my coworker about their obsession with [pop culture thing], but not about the way they ramble on sometimes in meetings, even if they are self-deprecating about it, because they’ve said they do so out of nervousness and it’s clear they are self-conscious about it.

      4. marvin*

        I see teasing as an advanced form of social interaction. A lot of people who tease are not reading the room properly and I’ve been hurt by teasing a lot of times. But I’d also be sad to never be able to participate in consensual teasing, because I think it can actually be a really nice way to show that you know someone well enough to understand where their boundaries are. Probably not a good idea at work in most cases, though, unless it’s about something incredibly innocuous.

        1. darcy*

          yeah, I have a certain friend group where teasing is a big part of how we bond. I found it a bit stressful trying to know where the line was at first because it wasn’t something I was used to but now I enjoy it! I wouldn’t do it at work unless it was someone I knew really really well because I’m just not confident enough about judging where the line is professionally.

          1. Le Sigh*

            The friend dynamic you mention is something I try to be aware of when I’m in a group of old friends and there are “newer people” in the mix. It can be tricky to meet your significant other’s friends when they’ve known each other a decade and have their own language. Sometimes the “new person” has a natural personality fit and it works immediately, but it’s good to be aware of how intimidating that dynamic can be and the need to adjust and welcome people in.

      5. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, I personally dislike most teasing, even from relatives. I have a hard time getting my spouse to understand this, though – their family did teasing in a mostly loving way. My encounters with teasing were mostly with school bullies.

        Yes, I can tease, but only about very, very minor things. Like if someone is wearing camo “What are you trying to blend in with today?” or looking straight at them saying “What’s this pile of greenery doing here?”

        In general, at work I try to stick to dad jokes. They may be groaners, but they shouldn’t be offensive.

        1. banoffee pie*

          “or looking straight at them saying “What’s this pile of greenery doing here?”

          That’s hilarious. If I was wearing camo and you said that to me, I’d crack up tbh.

          It makes sense that teasing isn’t for everyone, especially people who’ve experienced bullying at school. I don’t mind it, as long as the other person accepts that I’m going to throw some back. And that’s probably why it isn’t a great idea to do it from boss to employee, unless it’s really gentle, or unless the boss is clear that the employee is welcome to tease them back.

          This whole discussion is interesting to me, because where I’m from (Ireland) people tease each other a lot, even if they don’t know each other well. So it’s interesting that a lot of commenters are saying that it’s only cool between really close frineds. I’ll bear that in mind when I visit the US!

          1. allathian*

            Yes, for me gentle teasing is only okay when it’s between social equals who can handle being teased right back. Offices are by their nature somewhat hierarchical, and in a situation where it’s potentially risky for people who don’t like being teased to express their discomfort to their superiors, or to judge if it’s safe to tease them right back, it’s better to refrain altogether. Besides which, jokes that are aimed at a particular person can backfire really badly if you’re trying to encourage collaboration.

    2. Beth*

      Teasing can be a lot of fun as a joke…when you know the person well, know what they do and don’t enjoy being teased about, and have read the environment well enough to know that everyone in the room is going to be comfortable with what’s going on. It’s not something I’d usually bring to work, personally. But in the right context, it makes me smile and feel warm inside when someone knows me well enough to tease me in a way that feels good.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        That “reading the environment” part is really important. I had a manager who had worked with certain reports for years and they felt very comfortable roasting each other, but as a new employee I found it really awkward to listen to. I also felt some pressure to participate if I wanted a warm relationship with my manager, which was particularly unfortunate.

        1. Lizzianna*

          I think supervisors also need to understand that their reports may not feel comfortable speaking up if it’s not welcome. I had to counsel a supervisor who worked for me because he constantly teased his direct report, and the direct report came to me after I sent out our organization’s anti-bullying policy.

          The supervisor claimed to be shocked because “he never said anything!” Well no, dude. You had the power to fire him. He was afraid to rock the boat.

          I’m much more willing to push back on a peer who says something that rubs me the wrong way than a boss.

    3. Dinwar*

      “Teasing isn’t a good kind of joke, though.”

      Depends on the people. There’s a thing called counter-signaling, where you intentionally violate social norms to show you’re on such good terms that you don’t need to abide by social conventions. I have a coworker I’m very close with (the term work-wife has been used), and our conversations generally include a large number of insults and joking threats and the like. It works for us–we’re close enough to understand they are jokes. If I were to say the same thing to other coworkers they’d be deeply offended and likely disturbed, for good reason.

      It’s a risky move, though. Counter-signaling when used well makes the relationship much deeper. Used improperly it can break the relationship.

      1. Joanna*

        I try to avoid teasing in general. I was “teased” by my family growing up and you know what it really was? Bullying. I don’t like being teased, and I know how troublesome it can be, so I try and stay away from it. Yes, there are times and relationships where it can come up naturally, but in general, I just assume other people like to be teased just as much as I do, and I don’t do it.

        1. ferrina*

          Agree with this. I was also “teased” (bullied) by family to the point that it gave me mental health disorders (emotional abuse is real, y’all).
          Obviously I never talk about this at work, and I’ve done a lot of work so you can’t tell from the outside. I struggle with my self esteem, yet get frequent praise for how confident I am. But if I’m having a bad day, I can easily read the teasing as veiled disappointment, and it can throw off my whole day. You’ve got to really know your audience, and know they feel safe pushing back if they don’t want to hear it.

          Other thing to consider: you don’t always know who is overhearing you. So while you’re counter-signaling with your friend, someone who’s not in on the joke may see it as aggression. So not only knowing your audience, but also knowing your surroundings.

          1. darcy*

            yeah, me and my girlfriend constantly make each other laugh by calling the other one rude names, but we don’t do it around other people because it would come off really weird!

        2. Despachito*

          Yes, the line between teasing and bullying is very fine. I am sorry it happened to you.

          I think that for teasing to work the other party must not have the slightest hint of doubt that the teaser respects them and thinks high of them. And this would include knowing them well enough to be certain that they will truly enjoy the banter, and stop immediately at any sign it is not the case.

  16. ApollosTorso*

    I love Allison’s take. You don’t have to joke. There are different types of humor and beyond humor you can just kind of let it happen.

    This reminded me of Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation from her book Bossypants. They might help give you some ideas of how you can navigate in your own way. Especially this section:

    “Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

    “As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live? “

    1. Hydrangea*

      “Yes, I will hold your hand for a dollar, AND ….”

      Aw, hell naw. Jeez, what kind of way is THAT to live? I would definitely be the Grumpy Gus with the sourpuss expression if our meetings started with a round of that noise.

      1. Why?*

        I’d be struggling to not walk out of the meeting. I’m sorry but jokes *aren’t* work. I shouldn’t have to fake the sense of humor of the person just so we can get on with the meeting.

      2. Joielle*

        I don’t think anyone was suggesting that we should literally do improv exercises in meetings. LOL

  17. Important Moi*

    I think this an example of “If you have to ask the question, don’t.”

    “Everyone” thinks they have a good sense of humor.
    “Everyone” does not given the subjective nature of humor.

    People who don’t share your sense of humor often don’t extend grace.

  18. Lenora Rose*

    Many people actually prefer the person who smiles at their jokes to the person who tries to make jokes back; especially if the return jokes feel forced. In its positive aspect it is indeed a “we are friendly humans together” interaction which is social lubrication, and it saves time not having to return banter.

    At its worst: there can be a heavily gendered aspect to this dynamic in some cases where straight men outright define sense of humour in other men as “makes jokes” but in women as “laughs at my jokes”. I have no way of knowing if this is part of this specific case but it is worth noting.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I am one of those people who needs other people to laugh at my jokes. (Which was rough when I first moved to the Midwest and had to completely recalibrate my level of sarcasm.)

  19. Pepperbar*

    I have some clients like this. I’m very much a ‘get to the point’ sort of person. I had to reframe it in my head as just the sort of relationship-building Allison suggests, and just add it to the mental agenda in my head for meetings with these clients that the first ten minutes will just be social chit chat.

    I’ve found that I’m less annoyed by it, and it actually wraps up quicker since I’ve stopped trying to drag these types back on topic so they get it out of their system all at once.

    1. Kay*

      I’m also a -we are in a meeting to get things DONE!- kind of person. But… clients.

      I’ve found that to get through humor I don’t agree with/am not interested in I deploy smiles, nods and a handful of platitudes (“haha”, “right!?”, “oh too funny”, “oh gosh”), the occasional well timed sigh & head shake in solidarity, then when I find the right moment – a redirect to the actual task at hand. This strategy doesn’t give them additional fuel to keep the joking around going, but isn’t a frosty stare conveying your dissatisfaction that the meeting is now 20 minutes past start and its still chatty hour!

      For teasing – a shrug, hands up and “what can I say” or “don’t know what to tell you”, even just a shrug & tisk, all with a smile – doesn’t really engage but deflates things in an agreeable fashion.

      I would suggest find a few things that feel easier for you, then get comfortable with them – practice helps even if it is just saying it out loud to an empty space.

  20. Hannah L*

    I don’t think it’s so much having a sense of humor as it is just being seen as approachable. If you look annoyed by jokes and playful banter people might peg you as Too Serious. Which depending on what you do that may not matter, but if you are someone who has any direct reports, they might find the seriousness intimidating.

    Speaking from personal experience, when I’ve had bosses who looked down on joking it made me feel less comfortable coming to them about issues and it generally made me uneasy. I think Allison’s advice of merely reacting to the jokes in a more positive manner will probably suffice.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      On the flipside, I was intimidated by a former boss because of his edged sense of humor. I was afraid he would start mocking me like he did his friends. That’s why I think warmth is more important than “humor” when it comes to being approachable. This is particularly true when a report needs to approach you about something serious; having a jokester reputation could really hurt you there.

      1. Hannah L*

        True! I guess I meant more specifically in the LW’s case, a willingness to just play along would go a long way.

        But you’re very right that it can go too far. As with most things it’s about reading the room.

    2. Sylvan*


      I tend to come across as too serious (an effect of just being quiet), and this is solid advice.

  21. Caroline+Bowman*

    There are people who do not have much of a sense of humour, of any kind. I’ve met a few of them, all of them genuinely really nice people, bright, interested in different stuff, professionally successful, kind etcetera, but entirely devoid of any discernible funny bone. No reaction to any form of anything that could be described as funny or ironic, not even when someone says ”here’s a good joke I heard…” beforehand.

    One or two of the ones I am thinking of had other characteristics that makes me think they may have been on the spectrum, but then, my 16 year old is on the spectrum and has a wild sense of humour, very zany, very witty generally. He can be quite literal in personal interactions and not read social cues as easily as others, but he recognises teasing, tolerates / understands what it is and does a bit of it himself with his peers.

    The only thing that would make me wonder if maybe the OP may be on the spectrum is that they say they don’t quite get how to respond to even light banter at all. They may simply be very reserved and even a bit shy, but it is a possible clue. Either way, just working on smiling pleasantly and not saying too much (within reason of course), or even figuring out a very short, quick joke to tell at any important upcoming meeting so as to very peripherally participate might help them not feel so awkward and worry about seeming disapproving.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      It’s so strange to me when people say that folks on the autism spectrum aren’t funny or don’t get humor as a rule. My partner is on the spectrum (I am not) and she’s genuinely the funniest person I know. No one lands a one-liner like her. I’ve even stolen some of her jokes and used em at work and they kill every time.

    2. darcy*

      I’m extremely autistic and by all accounts am hilarious and great at banter, can we not confuse being autistic with not having a sense of humour please

  22. Some Lady*

    Humor can be a great tool in the workplace – I recommend checking out the research by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas or their book, Humour, Seriously: Why Humour Is A Superpower At Work And In Life

  23. Beth*

    I’m not a joker at work. (I am with friends, but it’s just not part of my work persona.) But I’m a warm person in general: I smile a lot, I’m usually up for a short chat unless I’m truly swamped, I remember people’s names and faces, I remember the pets and kids and hobbies they’ve told me about. That seems to do the same thing–it puts people at ease and creates a more relaxed atmosphere. You don’t have to be super into banter to humanize yourself at work! Lean into what works for you.

    1. katkat*

      This is a good reminder; be warm and accepting and aproachable person _the way YOU are.

      I do some of the things Alison suggested; I smile and nod a lot. But I also like the reminder to do the other things to show that you enjoy the company of your colleagues (at least a little…). For me it is bringin in treats and being always open for a short chat with anyone. (Im terrible at remembering any of the non-work related chitchat afterwords, but am willing to listen! Even multiple times:D)

  24. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    There’s a difference between joking while you’re waiting for a meeting to start, quips during a conversation, and comedy routines that may or may not interrupt the audience doing their work.

    If I’m focused and working, I can handle quips … but get secretly irritated by interruptions of my flow by colleagues who have descended into my space and want to be entertaining as a connection technique, but really want I want to know is what the heck they want — and I want them to know whether I have bandwidth for a routine, or just need to answer their quick question.

  25. anonymousity*

    Did anyone else think of the LW who started a new job where they weren’t allowed to joke? She literally got a talk from HR. Really interesting how different work cultures work for different people. I would struggle in a no joking office but I wonder if this LW would prefer it (I saw that without judgment, everyone has different preferences).

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yes, I think of the “no-humor policy” letter writer every time I read/hear about people who don’t like or don’t get humor in the office! I’m glad there is (at least) one no-humor workplace in this world, and I hope it suits most of the people who work there.

    2. banoffee pie*

      Yeah, I thought of that letter too. I’d really struggle there. I wouldn’t be trying to break the rules, but I can’t go five minutes without making a joke, so they’d be sure to slip out.

  26. Casey*

    I am a naturally jokey person who had a very earnest, serious intern this summer. She at some point asked me *why* people joke in our office, and here’s some of the bullet points I shared with her. For context, we work in a high-skill, high-pressure field; most of us have advanced degrees and screw-ups range from “we just lost millions of dollars” to “people died”.

    – Joking around gives you a sense of rapport with team members, so when you need someone’s help, they have a warm/positive impression of you

    – By taking moments of levity for dumb, inconsequential stuff, we set norms about what’s serious and what isn’t. People can’t be in crisis mode all the time, so blowing off steam is important in order to create a clear difference in atmosphere when there IS a crisis.

    – Joking around helps smooth out inter-team tensions. If Widgets team and I are sorting out a frustrating issue w the code, and we can take a moment to be like “damn code gremlins”, that helps us feel like it’s us vs the problem instead of Team A vs Team B.

  27. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Something to remember is that people associate you with emotions, not just tasks. So if you’re not joining in the banter (and there’s no reason why you should, especially if you’re bad at it), it’s a good idea to find some other way to be associated with positive emotions. Maybe become known as the person who hands out really well-phrased words of appreciation?

  28. Ness*

    Laughter has been shown to improve your mood, energy level, and focus, even if you’re forcing yourself to laugh rather than laughing at something you genuinely find funny.

    So if it helps, think of it that way! Laughing at your coworkers’ jokes, whether or not you find them funny, will probably improve your own focus as well as their perception of you.

    Disclaimer: don’t make yourself laugh at jokes that you find offensive, but I assume you would have mentioned that if it were an issue.

  29. Khatul Madame*

    I have no problem with lighthearted banter at work, and gladly participate. There was a lot more of this in the in-person work era, but my current workplace checks this box to a degree.
    But I was annoyed and felt excluded by sports talk if an important game had taken place before that meeting.

    1. Apollos Torso*

      Yeah – if one were to replace everything about humor in the letter with sports, I’d see my younger self needing this advice. I’ve learned to smile, nod and be happy that other people found some joy and connection until the sports ends… But it’s been a hard road and I still find it to be a place of disconnection

  30. Decima Dewey*

    Recently my library system had a de-escalating training. The trainer recommended humor “in moderation”. In my own experience, when I’m upset or stressed, my sense of humor vanishes. So I’m not likely to make a joke if I have to explain to an upset patron that what they want isn’t going to happen. For example, I can place a hold on a book they want and my branch doesn’t have on shelf, but I cannot guarantee that it will arrive any time soon (it’s not uncommon for materials to take weeks to get from point A to point B).

    Joking can be a social lubricant, but, please, know your audience.

    1. ...*

      The levity my first mentor-friend and I often used in our sometimes stressful workplace was “There’s no such thing as a library emergency.” We meant it as a keyphase between the two of us as shorthand for “Hey, this is frustrating, but let’s not lose perspective that we’re not engineers / doctors / firefighters with lives on the line.”

      Obviously, this only worked internally in our circle of two. I doubt a patron would have taken it well if we’d sardonically dropped that line on them when they weren’t getting their way, lol!

    2. Lenora Rose*

      Whereas I am the reverse – I will make jokes to defuse *my own* tension, never mind someone else’s. I think my first miscarriage wasn’t taken as seriously until it became clear how hard I was bleeding because I could make jokes. You’d think an emergency room triage nurse would know that’s something that can happen, but apparently it meant she was mentally downgrading it.

  31. Erik*

    As a outlier-level introvert myself, this is exactly how I deal with it. Smile, respond if I happen to have something in mind and just smile if I don’t, then continue on with the meeting subject after the first flurry of jokes abates.

    It’s the group conversational equivalent of a pause for breath on an individual, and if you just keep in mind that the conversation needs to breath once in a while it becomes easier to let it happen and gently redirect back, rather than trying to stop it from its natural rhythm.

  32. Erik*

    And I forgot what I originally came to say:
    My wife has a saying, “Learn to appreciate the Importance of Being Garnish.” No dish is complete without garnish, and every performer needs an audience. Being a good audience can make you even more popular than being a good performer. It’s the other great party trick for introverts.

  33. Erik*

    And I forgot what I originally came to say:

    My wife has a saying, “Learn to appreciate the Importance of Being Garnish.” No dish is complete without garnish, and every performer needs an audience. Being a good audience can make you even more popular than being a good performer. It’s the other great party trick for introverts.

  34. philmar*

    This reminds me of the butler from The Remains of the Day who, when faced with an American employer, has to learn how to “banter.” Unfortunately I have no advice except to watch out for Nazi sympathizers.

  35. dorcas*

    I’m very goofy and jokey (as well as extremely relationship-focused). I totally understand (and agree!) when people are trying to get work done, but sometimes my on/off switch takes a little while to get into gear. Also if someone reacts positively to a joke or something I said, I get a dopamine hit and want to continue goofing off. It’s a bad habit that I’ve really been working on trying to calm down at work. My former workplace was a lot more of a “goof-off zone” than my current one is, so it’s been a tough transition, but it’s also totally important to get my work done. I think I’ve gotten more focused/less goofy over the months I’ve been here but sometimes it still slips out and I’m just in a silly goofy mood.

  36. danmei kid*

    No comedian can be successful without an audience. For every office jokester there needs to be at least a 1:1 ratio* of people who just respond positively to their jokes (as long as they are office appropriate). Your contribution doesn’t have to be coming up with MORE jokes. You are participating socially by chuckling along with others just fine!

    *not supported by actual studies

  37. Vio*

    I love the response here. I used to get really annoyed by joking, banter and other seemingly pointless conversationy things. I did eventually get some similar advice and was amazed at the change. Instead of being left out of the fun, I was brought into it. I even discovered that I did have a sense of humour and now I’ve a reputation for (mostly bad) puns. I was incredibly socially awkward (to put it mildly) and suffering (at the time undiagnosed) depression and CPTSD. It still took a long time before I got to where I am now, but that was one of the big things that helped my recovery.
    It’s obviously not going to be the same for everyone. You might still find that you don’t enjoy the humour even if you make a show of accepting it. But it probably will make the atmosphere much more comfortable and help everyone.

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