How humor could help you move ahead in your career

When senior copywriter Zoe Costello approaches work every day, laughter is inevitable.

“Constantly,” said Costello. “We’re all laughing together as much as the computer engineers can stand.”

Levity reigns supreme during stressful days, too. “Even on those days, I know there’s going to be a dozen times where I’m going to be cracking up with my friends,” she said.

The Fort Greene resident works at BARK, the company behind BarkBox that’s devoted to making dogs happy with products and services. Five years ago, she became friends with Will Storie, a senior copywriter from Cobble Hill, when her late dog, Ziggy, had an unfortunate incident on an office couch.

“Her dog farted in my face,” said Storie. “That’s how we became friends, about laughing about nonsense together. It’s served us well in our professional paths. When you’re genuine friends, it’s so much easier to roll with the punches and say, ‘OK, here’s the thing we need to work with together.’ We have this trust that makes it so much easier.”

Steve Cody
Steve Cody is Peppercomm’s CEO. … and also a comedian.

They’re onto something.

Humor in the office has the ability to strengthen relationships and eradicate an annoyed expression known as “resting boss face.” According to a survey conducted by Robert Half International and Hodge-Cronin & Associates, 98 percent of executives preferred employees who had a sense of humor and 84 percent believed jocular employees did better work.

In an Accountemps survey, the staffing agency discovered four out of five CFOs said an employee’s sense of humor plays an important role in how the employee will fit in.In fact, harnessing humor can become your superpower.

Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker teamed up to write this book.
Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker teamed up to write this book.

According to Jennifer Aaker, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business and co-author of “Humor, Seriously” (Currency), “Humor is this secret weapon to be more effective at work and be more joyful in life. Yet, it is vastly under leveraged in most workplaces today.”

It’s good for us, too. “Laughter releases endorphins — the feeling of a runner’s high,” said co-author Naomi Bagdonas, a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business who also teams up with Aaker to teach “Humor: Serious Business.”

“We release oxytocin, the ‘love hormone.’ As far as our brains are concerned, laughter is like exercising, meditating, and having sex — and far more encouraged by HR.”

Antonio De Soto, senior account executive at Peppercomm, a marketing and communications firm in Midtown, literally had to show his comic side on his first day at the job in 2019. The Upper East Sider attended a mandatory orientation at a comedy club hosted by professional comedian Steve Cody — the firm’s CEO.

His supervisor, also onboarding, talked about teasing her husband over his cluelessness at household tasks. “I could relate,” he said. Back in the office, this experience made their relationship “more casual and joking.”

In fact, ongoing comedy training is available for De Soto and colleagues as part of the company ethos thanks to Cody, who crossed stand-up comedy off a bucket list in 2008 and now performs “very poorly on Friday nights at the Greenwich Village Comedy Club.”

Antonio De Soto.
Antonio De Soto had his work orientation at a comedy club.

“The adrenaline rush got me going,” said Cody. “My skills were being incredibly sharpened in terms of listening, no fear with public speaking, dealing with silence — which is a big killer [and] dealing with an audience that may be multitasking.”

Cody realized executives could learn from comedians’ skills. Plus, he said it helps humanize leaders as they become “much more vulnerable, humble, more empathetic. It prevents someone from being an authoritarian.”

Humor should be authentic to an organization, with the leader setting the tone from the top.

“You have to signal that humor is welcome — humanity is welcome here,” said Bagdonas. “That doesn’t mean you have to be funny. Look for moments to laugh. Try to be more generous with your laughter or smiling.”

Comedy is not a tool to use all the time.

“It’s not about being funny — it’s about how you will impact the room,” said Aaker. “When in doubt, don’t. Listen to your intuition. Remember: The goal isn’t to get a laugh. The goal is to make everyone feel more at ease.”

Be aware of your status in the organization, especially as you advance.

“If you’re a middle manager and making fun of others in the room, you might be punching up which is appropriate — it can make everyone feel good and closer,” said Bagdonas. Once you become the boss, making fun of people “can feel like punching down, which is inappropriate and can take away from safe environments.”

Self-deprecating humor is mostly effective, but if you’re in a senior role and self-deprecating too frequently, that can diminish your power.

Steve Cody.
Steve Cody has said executives and business people can learn a great deal from comedians.

Overall, at any level, you can start becoming more playful by adding a line to your e-mail signature, LinkedIn bio or introduction. Brandi Boatner of White Plains, manager of digital and advocacy communications at IBM and vice president of student programming at New York Women in Communications, sprinkles in levity while introducing herself.

“I’m always like, ‘Hi, I’m Brandi. I’m a huge Beyoncé fan. I want to babysit her twins, but not Blue Ivy, because she’s super sassy and makes way more money than me. What’s your name?’”

This is the ultimate win.

“If we think not only about selling our product, but also ourselves, and being a person that others want to work with, humor is an incredibly powerful tool,” said Bagdonas.

Living | New York Post

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