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How to joke at work without being sued

21st February, 2023

How to joke at work without being sued

What do jokes in emails and a bottle of rosé have in common?

 

Both seem like a great idea at the time, but can give you one hell of a headache the next day.

 

As I wrote last week, we’re not great at deciphering intent over email.  And we’re not great at conveying it either.

 

So jokes over email can be risky.  

 

Dr Anne Hsu, a world authority on emotional health, recently shared these three tips about how to assess the appropriateness of jokes.

 

They’re a great starting point if you’re thinking about using humour, whether over email or in person.  Dr Hsu writes:

 

‘Most jokes make light of some pain. Being aware of what this pain is will help you assess whether a joke is appropriate for your audience.

 

1) Think about what pain you’re pointing to. Is it a pain shared by a group you are part of? Jokes are more acceptable when you’re part of the group that is feeling the pain.

 

2) Think about distance. How far away is the pain, has time passed? Are things all good now? People feel more hurt by jokes when the pain the joke points to is fresh.

 

3) When making fun, it’s safer to punch up, sometimes sideways, never punch down. It’s ok to poke good-natured fun at people who have higher status than you as this can seem confident. But making fun of people of lower status can often make you come off like a bully.’

 

I hope these tips help you like they did me.  

 

Making jokes at my own expense is generally my safest option.  

 

Even if I do offend myself sometimes.

accenture
UBS
Ricoh
Euromoney
University of Cambridge

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