The Team That Laughs Together…

By David Ryback, Ph.D.

When it comes to laughter, it appears that what is important here is the social context in which it occurs.  So what is said prior to the laughter determines the effect more than any other single variable.  In terms of social context, what matters is the sex of the individuals involved (same or different) and whether they’re friends or strangers.  The laugh of a female who approaches a male who is a stranger will most likely have sexual overtones.  A female’s laugh in a mixed group such as a business cocktail party will likely have flirtatious overtones.  That exact same laughter, as heard by a nearby female, may result in an aggressive or withdrawal reaction which we might characterize as jealousy or competitiveness. 

As mentioned earlier, the context of laughter determines its effect.  In a business setting, the dynamics of a gathering of people, small or large, are even more influential.  Is the boss in the group or within hearing range?  Are there political dynamics inherent in the group involving competition or strategizing?  Perhaps that’s why laughter isn’t that common among business groups, unless the leader initiates the appropriate context.  The mark of an effective motivational speaker is his or her ability to get the audience laughing.  Then there’s a chance they’re all on the same wavelength and the speaker has a better chance of influencing the audience to higher motivation, if that’s the purpose of the meeting.

Coming from this perspective and facing the emotional states in yourself and others in the moments you share a laugh or two means that the laughter you laugh is in a sensitive context of people with whom you have connection.  The authenticity you express will have the effect of making your laughter more connective with others.  To the extent that one of the effects of laughter is to bring others into a synchrony of emotion (when it’s preceded by authentic communication), then you and your associates will share a closer sense of community, and this can bring a greater sense of joy and meaning to work, not to mention a more successful outcome.


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