humor at work intercultural communication


The emphasis of intercultural contact is on developing awareness about the functioning and interaction of dialect and culture within commonly recognized, regional or universal environments. Cross cultural communication requires awareness of the suspicions one makes as well as awareness of the suspicions and desires of others. In addition, simple and unidentified are the two assumptions that are crucial to everyday contact.

Humour is often used as an effective act of expression in cross culture contact to crack tension, establish partnerships or disperse a challenging circumstance. But the concept of’ funny,’ which is general, is hardly translatable and highly human, conceptual and cultural. . As a result many jokes, sarcastic or ironic remarks which may be deeply tied to culture are often unperceived, misunderstood or insulting. Understanding international languages involves significant challenges in comprehension such as reading vocabulary in the sense of a phrase. As a result of this, jokes are perceived less humorous compared to native language jokes.

The ability to detect and appreciate difference can be seen as crucial to the creation and appreciation of humor as it is to effective intercultural communication. This paper will focus on the importance of humour at work and how to use humour for effective intercultural communication based on previous research. Incongruity may also usually be regarded as a ‘nonfit’ in the sense of humour between what the speaker and listener what he experiences or observes based on cultural frame of reference.

The Role of Humor in the Workplace

Eric Romero and Kevin Cruthirds, a management consultant and an instructor in the Department of Management at the University of Texas, are looking into how executives should use the use of humor to produce a variety of operational results in the corporate ‘ Use of Humor'(2006). Firstly, they states that’ humor is more than just amusing concepts; it is a multi-functional to accomplish other objectives’ (p. 58). All of these aims are to use mood for stress management. Another is to help with management issues. Properly utilized humor establishes between the employee and the employer a comfort space, which illuminates the work atmosphere and unlocks the way for successful leadership. The authors Romero and

Cruthirds introduce the concept of affiliative humor which is used as a “social lubricant” that facilitates interpersonal interaction that creates a positive environment. Under these circumstances people are brought closer together.

Conditions that Promote Humor in the Workplace

Organizational Culture

In Romero and Cruthirds ‘ previous studies, humor as an essential component in organizational cultures is promoted as it provides a supportive atmosphere in which ideas and opinions are openly communicated and interpersonal relationships that flourish. Their role is a key component in the development of organizational culture and in the workplace. Additionally, Andrew Tarvin, described in his Tedtalk that “ Humor is a skill and anyone can learn it”. He emphasizes that using humor at the workplace, individuals can be more productive, happier and less stressed. Organizational culture is the evidence that humor is embraced as a resource for corporate growth. An environment of fun and satisfaction promotes both staff and employers in a win / win situation. The well-being of the management and the workers generally increases performance and profitability in any company.


The initiative to incorporate humor into workplace culture starts from leadership and is passed from there to the ranks. Romero and Cruthirds (2006) say, ‘by maintaining the control of an individual and the social differences between the members and their followers, humor may be used to reinforce leadership’ (see p. 63).Humor will, as emphasized, help maximize the efficiency of businesses. Organizational members need to clear the way for that to happen through humor. Humor helps both boss and employee find common ground for teamwork, particularly as a collaborative member, which makes for both a comfortable and successful environment. In this way communication at all levels can be enhanced as both administrators and staff can talk more comfortably with one another. For example, Andrew Tarvin stated in his Tedtalk that he was project manager in a company and he used to give funny names to projects and motivate his team using humor in his talks with the team, He further explained one of the team member came to him and she said she really like her job, but she was to quit her job because she was able to find something funny in her job. After Andrew managed the job, she became interested in her job.

Creativity Using Humor

Humor generates new ideas, new thinking. People are more relaxed and open and less prone to criticize mistakes or new ideas which lead to risk taking which is the basis of creative thinking. Research has shown people in a humorous environment are more inclined to do creative problem solving. There are many organizations, including Google, Pixar Animation Studios who spend considerable time and energy developing a playful atmosphere that leads to well documented cases of creativity.Related to this is the concept that humor is a way of taking your mind off the problem, even if just for a few moments, so you can smile and relax. This distancing allows your creativity to take hold. After a joke or other amusement and some time away from the problem, you are quite likely to have a creative solution develop in your mind.

Stress Reduction

Job stress arises from many causes, like, managing progress, forcing others to do something for more, requesting faster and overloading details. The psychological importance of laughing is addressed by Romero and Cruthirds (2006), who speak about a traumatic environment (for example, a difficult work case, firings, discharges), which may reduce its severity and add to its sense of dominance and power.According to “Gallup” 79% Americans say that they are stressed during their day. 39% says that it is caused by their work. Stress is considered to be a negative thing, at least the prolonged stress can be a problem. Andrew Tarvin the comedian, said “If stress is a villain then humor could be a superhero, so it opens up the blood vessels, relaxes muscles and increases the efficiency of the immune system of the body”. Humor builds confidence and allows us an enjoyable feeling of power. It serves as an effective method for handling stress by reducing fear and frustration.A major concern for any business or organization needs to be that stress takes its toll on the employees and causes many problems at work. Humor is an effective, low cost solution to this growing problem.

Possible Negative Effects of Humor

There can be a downside to the use of humor in the workplace environment. It must be used responsibly and in moderation to be effective. Some managers are opposed to the use of humor because of the possibility that it could be used inappropriately or indiscreetly. Unsafe usage of humour may cause an organization’s problems. People who misuse the use of humor at work will even risk their reputation. Attention must be given to differences in sense of humor.

Negative humor should never be used in the workplace: for example, ethnic and sexist jokes, insults, humiliation, and ridicule. This type of negative humor might also result in lawsuits which can harm an organization on a number of levels. Romero and Cruthirds (2006) refer to humor as a “double-edged” sword because it can be perceived as humorous by one person yet be offensive to another.

Humor and Effective Intercultural Communication

For both humor and successful intercultural communication, the ability to identify, understand and respond appropriately to incongruity is necessary. The notion of distinction is directly linked to, but not directly linked with, incongruity: understanding, development, contact and appreciation of incongruity depend first of all on the ability to make a distinction. This difference can be seen in the sense of humor in the contrast between what will happen and what will occur. The start of the punchline is a pattern where one’s perceptions vary from that which is presented, but are often incongruous or insensitive. Effective intercultural communication also depends upon the capacity to note difference since the ability to act appropriately hinges upon the ability to realize that one’s own perceptions, values, beliefs, or behavioral patterns may not only be different from those of one’s partner but inappropriate as well. The ability to note the difference and the ability to understand that the specific visions may seem incongruous and incongruous in each other are therefore essential for good communication in both situations.

The ability to process synthetically in both contexts translates into an ability to sense the greater context or configuration in which the communication takes place. This feature of cognitive complexity serves as an explanation to why, in the context of humor, we would laugh after detecting incongruity and, in the context of intercultural communication, we would not. Sensing the greater context greatly influences one’s ability to act appropriately since effective communication involves acting appropriately to both the other’s expectations and behaviors as well as to the greater communication climate or context itself. In other words, not realizing that ‘this is not to be taken seriously’ will produce a response (a straight face, silence, or a puzzled look) that is incongruous or inappropriate to what the humorist, for example, had intended and also to the greater context signalling a ‘playful mental set”. In the intercultural context, a low degree of cognitive complexity would suggest an individual would similarly not sense the overall context that, for the most part, signals that ‘this ~ to be taken seriously”. The inability to integrate incongruous elements or to sense the overall communication climate would produce inappropriate behavior when compared to how the event is construed by the intercultural partner and also to the greater context of at least a semi-serious frame of mind.

The intercultural environment can also be seen as a place of tremendous potential for humor with its abundance of incongruities and inappropriateness. Jokes have been created that focus on this inappropriateness between intercultural partners. In addition, it would not be totally uncommon for both intercultural partners to perceive the incongruity between their communication styles as humorous. This may mean that all sides are correct with their own perceptions about what is or is not good conduct. Once that occurs, it may be believed.

Nevertheless, good intercultural communication does not have to mean that one should be funny in the cultural context setting of the other. It is a common view among some writers (Kao, 1946; Middleton, 1959) that the ability to understand and appreciate the humor of another culture is often the last and most difficult aspect of the intercultural interaction that a communicator may master.

The humor processes and the intercultural processes both include “frame of reference shifting”. During the process of intercultural contact, one will encounter persons from either high, middle, or low context cultures Such as “China” is on the high context end of the scale’. What then might occur and be needed for effective communication if one from a high context culture such as China or Japan interacted with one from a low context culture such as the United States? What is the relationship between the contexting process and frame of reference and how does this relate to cognitive complexity?

The individual who is cognitive complex and the internal structure will shift the frame of reference implies that they may switch from a low-context conversation to a high-context code or vice versa. It is suggested that these people are capable of shifting from their own cognitive, analytical, and explicit code (as might be the case with an American) to the more effective, holistic, and implicit communication code of, for example, an individual from China. The overall interaction between these two environments is focused on the basic concepts of tolerance, versatility, willingness to obtain different viewpoints and suitability, both of which contribute to the cognitive complex. In an intercultural context one with a high degree of complexity will probably have to understand or simply sense that there are two very different and often incongruous cultural frames of reference interacting before a shift from one’s own cultural frame of reference to that of the other can occur. Despite what has been stated in “The Cultural Map” regarding high context people, information embedded in the implicit code, such as details communicated through a specific personal background, will more definitely be internalized. It may be proposed that the internal is likely to be a high context individual since both are capable of operating without information vested in the explicit code. In short, a task need not be spelled out in black and white for them. They both appear to possess a tolerance for ambiguity.

These studies were conducted to examine cultural differences in humor usage across countries without taking specific cultural variables into consideration. The effects of humor are both physical and psychological. It still remains uncertain if the variations in humor usage are related to individual or cultural distinctions. Moreover, specific humor types may have different connotations across cultures, which would influence humor usage in different cultural backgrounds. In fact this study accumulated evidence for the positive effects of humor: humor improves immunity, facilitates creativity, saves face, relieves stress and tension, creates a more positive self-concept, improves relationships with others, lowers stress, and increases positive emotions and life satisfaction.

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