MBH – Managing By Humor!

“A keen sense of humor helps us to overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected, and outlast the unbearable”
-Billy Graham

I am often told that I have a good sense of humor. You will always find me cracking a joke, poking fun at myself or others to lighten the mood at work. In fact many of my serious meetings happen in the midst of a riot of laughter.  As far as I remember, I have always used my sense of humor to build camaraderie with people I work with. Over the years, I have realized that there is no better way to engage your employees than a light hearted conversation.

I consider humor as one of the foremost leadership tool that every manager should use. I call it MBH – “Managing By Humor”. Here are top five reasons why I consider MBH so important –


  1. Builds Trust – A sense of humor makes a manager more approachable. It breaks the status barrier that is required to build trust. It opens up opportunity for honest and candid communication. (Read my blog on Building Trust)
  2. Drives Engagement – When people share a laugh, it drives a feeling of belonging. A serious workplace can become nerve-wracking. Humor – in a right proportion – can reduce the stress at work, makes it enjoyable and keeps employees motivated.
  3. Drives Creativity – We are at our creative best when we treat coworkers as friends and not acquaintances.  Humor breaks all hang-ups and there is no inhibition or pretense. It makes it okay to challenge and question each other. It creates a playful and unsophisticated childlike environment that is required to be at our creative best.
  4. Facilitates Change – When used appropriately, humor can defuse any feeling of fear and uncertainty associated with change, thus making it easy for employees to embrace change. It facilitates in making any radical changes at workplace.
  5. Promotes Health & Well-being – Employee well-being is the top priority for any manager. A good laugh keeps stress related diseases like blood pressure in control. Research has found that work related stress has a direct linkage to the health of employees. People in a less stressful environment are less likely to fall ill. Laughter is the best medicine!

I’ve seen many managers not embracing this style with ease. There are many reasons why managers keep away from considering humor as a serious leadership tool and leave levity outside work. Nobody wants be seen casual when they have serious business agendas to drive. After all when you mean business, you cannot risk being seen as a stand-up comedian! Who wants to be perceived as immature or lacking seriousness? There is also an old school belief that being a manager is a serious business and it should be handled seriously. For them, a serious demeanor ensures that people take you seriously. The reasons can be many, including a lack of confidence, but the benefit of humor at workplace hugely beats the excuses. It will remain an essential leadership skill.

Based on my experience, here are some tips and suggestions on how you can use a good humor –

  1. Find humor in your everyday life and share it – I find humor in everyday life, sometimes in most absurd situations. It is a different perspective of looking at things from a 30000 feet level. It could be the newspaper headings, agony aunt columns, parliament debates, neighbor’s fitness routine, excuses by the kids, driving on Indian roads or office dynamics. Try sharing these observations with few safe colleagues and check the reaction. Once you see people connecting to your sense of humor, start expanding your circle.
  2. Laugh at your own self – I have a repository of my own embarrassing situations, like – being late for a meeting when the agenda was to discuss ‘the importance of being on time’!!. Look for mistakes you make or blunders you commit. Sharing these experiences not only adds humor but also humanizes you. Make sure you balance it with sharing your learning’s and your commitment to improve yourself.
  3. Look for right occasion –Look for opportunities when you need to break the monotony or overdose of seriousness at workplace, team meetings, one on one discussion etc. There are also other occasions like coffee or lunch breaks, year-end parties, team outings etc. Here is an example on how much fun we had using this humor card to convey new year wishes – http://www.jibjab.com/view/uP66NW8XQtutiKExc2zDvQ.
  4. Be respectful – Unfortunately there seems to be an overdose of lewd humor on radio and television these days. That is not the humor I’m talking about – keep away from using them at your workplace! Watch out for anything that can be offensive, like being sexist or commenting on people’s family, religious beliefs or ethnic background. Make sure you do not use humor that show others in poor light.

If you are a novice, these are some excellent books that can help you develop leadership skill around using humor –

  • “How to be funny?” by Jon Macks
  • “Laughing Matters” by Joel Goodman
  • “For Your Improvement” Michael M Lombardo & Robert W. Eichinger

Go ahead and have fun ‘Managing By Humor’ and see the magic unfold!


Raj Karunakaran is a HR professional with more than 15 years of experience with organizations like Royal Philips,  Fidelity Investments, AstraZeneca Plc, Tech Mahindra. Raj is a certified Coach by Neuroleadership Group and he specializes in organizational development, leadership coaching and business partnering. He currently heads HR for Philips Healthcare sector at Philips Innovation Campus, Bangalore.


(Image courtesy : Freedigitalphotos.net)


  • Mahasweta says:

    Hi Raj,
    A very good thought provoking article. Though I agree with most of it I am not very sure on your point of ‘Humour helps building trust’. Trust is something which is deep and takes a long time to develop. Humour may help you better ‘Connect’ with people around. Trust is something which will follow depending on various other transactions.
    The way you have summed up the article is commendable and also appreciate the fact that you have provided pointers for people who may require help. All said and done I do remember your easy smile and laughter.

    Thanks & regards

    • Raj says:

      Hi Sweta,

      Thanks for your comments. You are right, there are multiple factors that influence trust. Humor can help in removing the status barrier that is important to build trust. Do read my blog on this – ‘Why employees do not trust their managers?’.

      Warm regards,

  • Pragya Shrimali says:

    Couldn’t agree more Raj. Humor helps people let their guards down, overcome a difficult situation together and of course see a person beyond their work mask.
    Any thoughts on how to handle a situation when the other person is not such a big fan of humor @ work?

    • Raj says:

      Pragya… Use your humor only when you feel it is appropriate. If the person does not appreciate humor then be respectful and accept the difference with as open mind.

  • Smita says:

    Very well written; completely agree with your thoughts. Humor is a powerful tool to deepen and at the same time lighten any equation. I remember reading somewhere “if you do not have a sense of humor, you probably do not have any sense at all” 🙂

  • Uma Ranjan says:

    Very nice article, Raj – Thanks a lot for reminding us all that we need to learn to laugh a little more. My best team and learning experiences have indeed been when there has been a lot of humour.

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