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How to Speak Human by Jennifer Jackson, Dougal Jackson

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An illustration shows three people standing as per their height while holding number cards 1, 2, and 3. 1 for the smallest in height and 3 for the biggest in height.

HumourThe serious business of being funny

Perhaps the biggest instigator of The Serious Conversation is suggesting humour at work. Yes, quite ironically, nothing gets some people more straight-faced than the thought of other people laughing.

We understand the fear. Humour can feel like a massive risk, especially when communicating a serious or sensitive topic. There’s the concern of trivialising, making light or making fun of a situation that may be far from funny. The spectre of potential insult looms. There’s also the legitimate fear of a joke falling flat. We’ve all seen what happens when humour takes a big ol’ bellyflop from the high board. The impact is seldom pretty.

Let’s allay those fears. There’s a subtle but definite distinction between seeing humour around a situation, and making light of the message. Comedians walk that line every time they get up on stage. Advertising uses it frequently and very effectively. Let’s trust that empathy will aid us in determining what’s funny, and what’s appropriate.

But why even risk it?

Well, research by Wharton, MIT and London Business School has proven that laughter relieves stress and boredom, defuses tension and negativity, increases engagement, promotes wellbeing and positivity, inspires creativity, builds relationships, fosters collaboration, improves motivation and morale, aids learning, hones analytic precision and raises ...

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