If relationships are good, use of both positive and negative humour by leaders can help improve their subordinates’ job satisfaction, suggests new research. “Generally, people think that positive humour, which is inclusive, affiliative and tasteful, is good in leadership, and negative humour, which is aggressive and offensive, is bad,” said one of the researchers Christopher Robert, associate professor at University of Missouri in the US.
“In our study, we found the effects of humour depend on the relationship between leaders and subordinates,” Robert noted. Specifically, both positive and negative humour use by leaders is positively related to their subordinates’ job satisfaction when the relationship between the leader and subordinates is good.
However, when the leader-subordinate relationship is bad, both negative and positive types of humour are associated with lower job satisfaction. In other words, for leaders, sometimes good humour has bad effects and bad humour has good effects on subordinates.
To test their theory, the researchers developed two sets of matched questionnaires, one for leaders and one for their subordinates. They analysed responses from about 70 leaders and their 241 subordinates in 54 organisations.
“The findings suggest that if leaders wish to integrate humour into their interactions with subordinates, they should first assess whether or not their subordinates are likely to interpret their humourous overtures positively,” Robert said.
These results also have implications for leaders’ strategic use of humor. “Instead of using humour to build relationships, leaders should work to build strong relationships through other means such as through clear communication, fair treatment, and providing clear and useful feedback. Humour then can be used to maintain those strong relationships,” Robert suggested. The study was published in the journal Group and Organisation Management.