What happens when the boss tries to be funny? In my previous post I mentioned some pretty bad habits bosses have. Often, when the boss tries to be funny, he or she isn’t. Any fan of the TV show The Office knows about bad office humor.

For example, if you’re the boss you may want to show up as smart and witty, so a funny comment seems innocent enough – until you realize you  just made yourself look arrogant. Truth is, nobody likes a smarty pants.

As the boss, everything you say – or don’t say – is taken as an example of how to act and communicate. Workplace humor, besides often being silly, can have serious legal complications:

Inappropriate workplace humor may be deemed as “evidence in sexual harassment, discrimination and hostile work environment cases.” It has led to serious consequences in cases such as when Chevron Corporation had to pay more than $2 million as a settlement after an interoffice email circulated on the subject of “25 Reasons Why Beer is Better Than Women.”

If you’re a boss with a humor habit, it’s time to rethink how it affects your ability to keep people’s trust and respect.

Yet, old habits die hard. Your wit may be a strong suit that endears you to many, but as the boss, it makes you less accessible to anyone without a tough armor.

So how do you change a habit? How do you let go of your habit of quick quipping in favor of more considerate conversations?

First learn to observe the way you communicate. This happens rapidly, so you’ll have to develop an inner observation that can decode these bad habits. Habits – good or bad – operate in the brain like this:

Cue => Routine => Reward

What triggers your automatic humor? It can be a word association, a person, or an opportunity to strut your ego. Your routine response is to deliver a funny line. The reward is the surge in of a chemical called dopamine in your brain that makes you feel good, powerful, and fun.

Slowing this split second habit down, you can start to see the three elements at play. How can you come away still feeling good and not risk being a jerk?

Look for ways to express good humor without sarcasm and cynicism. Keep the attention off yourself. In my previous post I mentioned the incessant need for bosses to make a comment:

Being witty is fun, but sometimes it is misinterpreted. Maintain your sense of humor, but be cautious about needless sarcasm and cutting remarks.

Sometimes it’s best to say nothing, to withdraw from a conversation that leads to joking. You can also redirect it by asking questions. As much fun as it is to be funny, as the boss you’re leaving yourself wide open to losing trust and respect.

Have you worked for a “funny boss?” Was it funny, strange, or just plain uncomfortable? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment!