Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Humour, leadership, and work
How does humour influence workplace motivation?
What is humour? Why and when do we find something humorous? Why do we like people who use regularly use humour? Ask your average person these questions and when removing personal taste the most common answers will receive might be something like "Its when something makes you laugh" "when someone is funny or surprises you" and "It makes them seem approachable and helps me relax" Attempting to explaining humour is difficult as it is easy for answers to fall into traps such as this use of banal and circular logic that fails to answer the question descriptively or using simple descriptors of the humorous subject (it's silly, it's dark, etc.) This is a question that not only confounds us, but that exposes the superfluous nature of humour and has plagued philosophers and academics for thousands of years. The source of humour or laughter has been disputed and analysed relentlessly, with ancient man originally looking at a combination of biology, genealogy, and philosophy to probe both the body and mind in search of the mechanism that would explain all humour and differences in use. This research has been aimed at examining both the known positive communicative and motivating effects of humour and humour expression, in workplaces and institutional settings, as well as far less explored dark sides of humour and historical and societal barriers to the implementation of humour.
Humour, leadership, and workEdit
History of humour studiesEdit
Humor_research is a wide field of research that has long been dedicated to studying and answering questions related to humour, with perspectives on humour stemming from fields of philosophy, literature, linguistics, history, and sociology. Humour research dates back to around 300 B.C.E and was largely founded by early philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, cementing humour as the issue of philosophers for thousands of years . From the 10th century up until the current day an increasingly scientific approach has been taken in regard to humour research, with the development of the three primary theories superiority theory, relief theory, and incongruity theory. It is useful to first acknowledge these theories as foundational aspects for much of behavioural research regarding humour today.
Early philosophers such negativity bias, suggesting that people inherently are drawn to disagreement humour, with Plato suggesting it increasing self perceptions of victory and self evaluations by increasing feelings of superiority to the weak or people who were interpreted as the self ignorant (Philosophy of Humour, 2020).Aristotle and Plato focused on theories of humour as a response to the misfortune of others which increases self image and asserts ones superiority, with these conceptions being developed into superiority theory. Superiority theory can considered to advocate a biological form of
A pompous man is seen entering a grand hall. With great derision he throws his coat off, slamming it in the hands of his assistant. He only makes it two steps forwards however before tripping on his own feet and falling face first. Another visitor, who has a distaste for the mansarrogance, bursts into laughter.
In this way humour was largely considered as a self indulgent and negative form of behaviour by Plato, the Greek stoics, and the philosophers who followed him, who regarded humour as form of social disruption and lack of self control or modesty. Aristotle, Plato's disciple, considered it as a form of "educated insolence" and the notion that humour encouraged unruly behaviour became routedclassical antiquity. Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, one of the most prominent and influential Christian leaders of the time, would issue statements such as "Laughter often gives birth to foul discourse, and foul discourse to actions still more foul" This would strongly influence Christian perceptions on humour as sinful or pooor behaviour, a conception that would last well over a thousand years and would even influence prominent figures of the Age of Enlightenment such as Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who regarded laughter as an instinctual, hateful act of competition.in early culture and this along with the bible would influence how humour was perceived and treated by early Christian leaders during
Superiority theory would as such remain the most prominent theory during this period until two competing theories eventually emerged, stress relief theory and Incongruity theory, making superiority theory fall out of favour. Relief theory was developed by Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud in the 20th century and regards emotions as the possible manifestation of nervous energy. Relief theory was built upon a combination of 18th century perspectives which suggested emotions as inevitable pent-up nervous muscle energy that is dispersed through laughter , and Freud own theory of Humour, which broke humour into two categories (Lanjouw et al., 1996) These were: innocent humour which are jokes intended with brevity, and tendentious Humour, which is the jokes that violate rules or social taboos for eg. satire, hyperbole etc, and helps diffuse stress through often held back expression.
A man is experiencing great stress due to his boss micromanaging every stage of his work and otherwise diminishing his confidence in himself through insults and a lack of faith. The man releases built up stress by committing an act of defiance and mockingly imitating his boss, when working alongside with his co-workers.
In Philosopher Francis Hutcherson's three short essays, compiled in Thoughts on Laughter (Hutcheson, 1989).Hutcherson compromises his own theories of humour, ones based on a different perspective of humour based upon the principle of incongruity. Incongruity was hypothesized to be a primary source of humour, with laughter stemming from the sudden and shocking perception of misalignment in a series of concepts or objects. James Beatie was the first to describe incongruity and it was Beatie and later his disciple Immanuel Kant, would first first develop the concepts that would go on to create the Incongruity theory of humour.
Janice is independently managing a new sea food bar, and is called over by a customer. The customer is bemused, pointing to a menu and murals on the wall, which all contain pictures of Janice having caught massive fish and the reality of her portions as very small. When Janice notices the extreme juxtaposition between the pictures and the customers food, she laughs and takes note of this discrepancy for the future.
Due to historical and philosophical bias leading to a lack of research into humour, until recently humour was largely defined in a moralistic and one-dimensional manner that was still based upon theories that were thousands of years old, and contained incomplete conclusions of cause and causation. While theories of stress relief and incongruity helped create understanding around alternative ways in which humour behaviours could be interpreted, it wasn't until the first modern humour scale was proposed, the Sense of Humour Questionnaire (Svebak, 2010) that attempts would be made at specifically categorizing humour factors. The SOHQ broke humour down into three categories; L-items (attitude towards humorous people and situations), M-items (response to humour ) and E-items (receptibility to express amusement) and in the 1980'sand 1990's new instruments such as Coping Humour Scale, The Situational Humour Response Questionnaire and The Multidimensional Sense of Humour Scale (Svebak, 2010) would subsequentially improve on this categorization with the inclusion of stress specific items and several new unexplored aspects of personal humour such as physicality, humorous ability, reception to humour, and the use of humour to cope with stress or to socialize. in 2003, The Humour Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) (Martin et al., 2003) would further a multidimensional approach that focused on the impact of humour differences between people, exploring two primary factors, a) how these differences affect relationships and personal well-being and b) whether the humour is well-intentioned and friendly, or ill-intentioned or damaging. Depending on the crossover of these factors, it was hypothesised that individuals typically exercised one of four general humour types; affiliative (relationship enhancing) self-enhancing humour (Laughing at ones self, coping) Aggressive Humour (criticisms or put downs) and Self-Defeating Humour (self deprecating, letting others laugh at your expense)
These measurement scaleLeadership Studies, and Motivational Studies, with advances in the associated field of behavioural science creating a revisory approach to the oft unexplored potential implications and benefits of humour use., as a development of the complexity of humour factors collected in early studies, is the most important scientific for the recognition of humour as multi dimensional as well as its connection to motivating behaviour. Due to the complexity of humour scientists today still lack a properly defined criteria for humour, however the development of personality and behavioural psychology, particularly within the last 50 years, has given a clearer picture of humour dimensions. Through this picture an understanding of the multidimensional ways in which humour behaviour and expressions contain motivations and creates motivation in others can be highlighted as increasingly important. Nowhere has this been seen more than in the new fields of
Leadership studies is a quickly developing field that is focused around the discovery and development of traits, behaviours or environments that influence leadership success and workplace motivation. The earliest foundational leadership studies and theories such as Michigan Studies of Leadership, McGregors Theory X & Theory Y, and the Blake & Mouton Managerial Grid (Simha, 2022) would all contribute in properly developing the concepts of an effective leader who not only takes part in work related behaviour centred around maximizing profit but maintains an employee focus aimed at fostering positive relationships and actively participates in voluntary workplace activities. Humour use is no longer perceived with quit as much vitriol as it had been for much of Human history and the positive humour styles have become integrated into social and workplace culture by majority of social groups, businesses and institutions, becoming an average part of informal social and business language as small talk . Scientists studying humour today agree with some of Francis Hutcherson's criticisms of Hobbs theory of humour as pure self interest and the general idea that examples of laughter that do not require feelings of superiority, and in contrast feelings of superiority that are not accompanied by laughter .
While Relief theory eventually lost favour in the 21st century due to its hypothesis of emotion energy being scientifically unfounded, the basic link between humour and stress relief would be permanently linked academically, leading to literature around the importance of humour as a stress management tool in social and professional settings. In wellbeing driven fields such as medicine this has lead to a consistent use of this theory by leaders and staff with 85% of nursing communications (McCreaddie & Wiggins, 2008) regularly being conducted with humour , and with practitioners themselves asserting the crucial role that humour plays in both their own and patient wellbeing (Wanzer et al., 2005) .
Incongruity theory remains the most successful theory of humour motivation today, and is the linchpin of humour in the modern and post-modern culture, with much of the satire, observational humour, or absurdity derived in shows such as Seinfeld, and The Simpsons ( just to name a few examples) and in absurdist art relying on this incongruity . In day to day life people are met with more information and more incongruity than before, with contrasting ideas and images being always present due to how much we are exposed to information through media and on the internet, with this juxtaposition often further motivating us to creative or growth behaviours. In leadership environments or workspaces, Incongruity is used by leaders and staff to to provide opportunities for behaviour change through humour (an example could be a manager asking an employee to move something that has been comically put in the wrong place) as the appearance of this incongruity can be humorous due to shifts in perspective, or unpleasant and this motivates interacting with the source of incongruity.
How does leadership humour affect behaviour?Edit
Leadership Humour is the use of humour by leaders in order motivate subordinates and complete transactional goals and to assist managers in maintaining a workplace. Leadership humour has been found to increase the safety of a workplace as well as increase workplace motivation and morale, with a positive relationship being found between humour in leadership and employees’ work motivation and morale (The Effects of Supervisor Humour on Employee Attitudes, 2018) In professions such as teaching, teachers who work in elementary schools and high schools state that school managers frequently conduct with a sense of affirmative humour, with this being linked towards a motivation increase in teachers (Akyol & Gündüz, 2014) Leader humour is as complex and diverse as the range of goals leaders seek to complete, being motivated by motivated by the desire to decrease tension through creating a perception of diminished power imbalance, while also further social goals and creating fostering leader-subordinate relationships that lead to increased motivation for workers
Stress relief, politeness and perceptionEdit
Jamie: Hi Janice, How are you going working on the account.
Janice: Hi there, I am well thank you but I am having trouble with one of the clients.
Jamie: what *laughs* is it Matt again?
Janice *laughs* Yes it is, he is always trying to negotiate, to keep us off-balance.
Jamie: ahhh, well don't fall over *laughs* he can be tough, but stand your ground and let him know you are one of the best in the business.
Janice: *laughs* I wish, but thank you I will keep working on it.
In the Above example, Jamie checks in on a member of his team and their progress and Janice is initially hesitant, mentioning her frustrations with an aspect of her work. Jamie treats the situation humorously, bringing a sense of levity to the discussion and attempting to ease Janice's concern through acknowledging her concerns and increasing her confidence while also motivating her to continue with her work. Jamie Has utilised a form of easy and affiliative humour to ensure Janice is fulfilling the goals he has set, and in doing so completes his transactional goals.
In two observational ethnographic studies, over 300 hours of observations (Dean & Major., 2008) highlighted the effectivity of humour as a tool to lend a degree of humanity to experience, for both the providers of care and care recipient's. In comparison to more direct and aggressive strategies, the use of Humour has been proven to relieve the tension of subordinates, increases personal likability and professionalism and has been shown to actively decrease the perceived negativity of given statements or orders. In an experimental study by Bitterly & Schweitzer (2019), Humour was analysed as an impression tool, with the two primary hypotheses being that disclosure would be lower when it is accompanied by humorous communication than when it is not, and that Perceived warmth and competence would be higher. The revealed implications of this study were that test subjects not only found statements delivered humorously to contain higher veracity (to be more accurate and true) but to indicate higher levels of warmth and competence to a candidate when they used a non-humorous delivery. Whilst negative disclosures created distrust and unwillingness, humorous disclosures on the other hand promoted positive feelings and had a quieting effect on the perception of negative content, even when the intent was still the same.
The increased relief and motivation that stems from this also has a beneficial effect on innovation behaviours. Humorous leadership helps to create a space where innovation is actively encouraged and in turn assists with stream of consciousness style flexibility of thinking, leading to the development of new ideas that are not bound by conventional approaches and management. This work environment also helps employees to feel enough emotional safety and trust in their employers feel safe in not just engaging in innovative thinking but bringing their ideas forwards in a confident manner . The importance of innovative behaviours, particularly within small enterprises and businesses has been found to be closely associated with positive emotional states, such as playfulness, joy, and freshness (Lin et al., 2010) (Slåtten et al., 2011) and a person’s emotional state has been also found to link both creativity and an increasingly open mindset and innovation
Boundaries and research directions for the future?Edit
Leadership related humour research has continued to develop, particularly in relation to discussions of leader- follower humour and the transactional effect of humour on group relationships. Despite this, modern humour research is a relatively new and underdeveloped in comparison to its contemporaries in behavioural science, social science, and the broader field of psychology. While Humour studies has explored humour in relation to basic social and workplace functioning, there are still a variety of different environmental and behavioural contexts that have the potential for alternative perspectives that can increase the fields considerable gaps in understanding around how negative humour use: how humour is prevented, demotivated, or used to cause harm or reinforce such as through power structures. (The Effects of Supervisor Humour on Employee Attitudes, 2018)
Humour measurements scales such as the Humour Styles Questionnairewhile useful in extrapolating the various dimensions of humour, have found humour styles to have less validity as predictors of measurements of positive wellbeing, with boundaries that alter the use of humour being better predictors of employee behaviours and attitudes (Ruch & Heintz, 2013) Boundaries for proper humour expression act as can include but are not limited to culture, historical context, age, humour expression, personality, and environmental contexts and act as either impermeable or permeable barriers to the proper sensitive implementation of humour. What is funny to one person may not be funny to another or may seem in bad taste, depending on one or multiple of these contexts being present for the person delivering humour and the person receiving. The Comprehension-elaboration theory (Cooper, 2008) suggests that the degree to which humour is enjoyed is firstly dependent on the degree of understanding of the humour and secondly, comprehensive post elaboration in which the subject analyses the humour. According to this theory a person will then analyse either the humour itself, or if met with a strong enough concern is present will look outside of the humour to question the story teller, including their motives, whether the given humour was is appropriate in an environment, and how hurtful the humour is.
Part of humour use by leaders is often conducted with intended purpose of hiding the intent of orders behind a more sympathetic or pleasant demeanour, to ease tension (Gender, Politeness and Institutional Power Roles: Humour as a Tactic to Gain Compliance in Workplace Business Meetings, 2004) This is known as the use of linguistic politeness, a discourse strategy that stems from Politeness theory (Mao, 1994) and as Modern Discourse strategies have moved away from Oppressive work strategies that create power symmetry and impact workplace morale, humour strategies like this have become useful for relieving tension and promoting positive relationships. a large percent of research today only focuses on these effects of positive humour however, and politeness theory and similar theories are unable to tell us much about the social links of humour to malicious creativity and workplace bullying (Perchtold-Stefan et al., 2020) and displays of Aggressive Humour, which are otherwise outlined in the theory of the Dark Side of Politeness (Austin, 1987). Aggressive humour is humour that reflects the values of Superiority theory, being humour that is aimed at putting down a target, usually to increase feelings of superiority for an individual or ingroup (Pundt & Herrmann, 2014) This is particularly relevant for those who are vulnerable such as new employees or the disenfranchised, who can be met with humiliating, or unprompted jokes if they don't conform to group standards (Yam et al., 2018) Linguistic politeness is particularly useful for the powerful because it allows the powerful to control the intent of the message, give commands that they otherwise would not, and potentially give orders made in bad faith or to coerce subordinates in ways that may actually be to their disadvantage. In this way the use of polite humour in leadership can create compliance and uphold a quo through subtle manipulation, while allowing the person in power to seem cordial. Holmes (2000) is a study of the potential of humour for power dynamics, and how these same devices can be utilized asymmetrically by subordinates in order to motivate power challenges to the superior, such as a critique of an order or an insult, disguising it in acceptable manner as to not offer the chance at a rebuttal. Humour functions as such as a tool for the motivation of the powerful and the powerless, and humour researchers needs to begin to acknowledge this by broaden the fields perspectives to not only factor in the dark sides of humour but to further incorporate critical theories of political sociology and study their implications on humour use
Janice has been working at her paper mill for a considerable amount of time, and is an organized, hard worker. When she continually approaches her manager, in search of a raise or promotion, he deflects her questions with a laugh and humorous remark that it is the wrong time, with the underlying suggestion being that he is saying no.
Many institutions and organizations still refuse to take advantage of humour fully due to a historically negative bias and association with a lack of discipline and professionalism. In Education numerous studies showcase that the use of humour has functional benefits such as motivation through increased retention, understanding and recall of class material (Allen et al., 2006) Humour has a similar effect across learning environments, such as higher learning in which university professors utilize humour in lectures to keep students engaged (Ziyaeemehr, Kumar, & Abdullah, 2011) Elementary schools and high school teachers have stated they receive increased motivation from school managers who frequently conduct with a sense of affirmative humour (Akyol & Gündüz, 2014) and the use of humour has been shown to increases retention in higher education lectures. Teachers have been found to have little experience and training in incorporating humour into classroom lessons, with many still holding on to old strict teaching doctrines such as "Don't smile until December" (Vomund & Miller, 2022) Don't smile until December and similar classroom management theories are based upon an either/or fallacy, in this case this being the misconception that caring displays and humour are incompatible with the rigorous teaching and control that education has been built upon. Humour use by students or themselves is then regarded as distractive, and non serious or non-conductive to learning, with teachers who haven't absorbed these attitudes often learning from their peers or superiors that it not welcome in an environment and this leading to less educators exploring the use of humour. In this way a vicious cycle is perpetuated in which because educators may not use humour, the possible benefits are going unexplored, leading to less educators being incentivized to use humour. Social Learning Theory (Bandura., 1977) states that innovation requires two factors to manifest, these being both a general expectancy from the subject that the innovative behaviour will productive reinforcing outcomes, and a level of need for the opportunity to practice new behaviours. Incongruity increases innovative behaviours through providing opportunities for removing or altering the source of the incongruity, with the appearance of this incongruity creating laughter due to surprising shifts in perspective. Organizations may benefit from endorsing humour usage as a regular part of work but also capitalizing endorse the humour benefits and potential innovation that come from sub-ordinates working with disharmonious ideas.
Research on humour motivation has progressed significantly in the last one thousand years, from theories which describe humour use and behaviours as a mechanism for self superiority at the cost of others, to research that focuses on the positive and beneficial applications of humour in dealing with average life absurdities and creating positive motivation strategies. The use of humour driven motivation strategies represents a strategy for leaders to increase leader-sub ordinate relationships across almost all aspects of work, but if the wide range of benefits for humour are to be used to their full potential, historical conceptions of humour as damaging need to be examined and discarded and accommodations that ease boundaries to humour need to be examined as a worthy cost and natural reality of humour use. If anything can be taken from studies of humour across different contexts, its that more than humour style, it is how humour expressions interacts with a particular environment and the contexts within it determines whether humour is effective, ineffective, caring, hateful, discouraging, and motivating etc. This book chapter has explored how humour research has changed over time but also has taken time to point out how developments of these philosophies and components still have their relevancy, underpinning and creating potential for humour research that is much deeper in scope and could further promote humour use as a motivational tool for all areas of life today
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