Is Humour Misplaced in Project Management?

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Humour is a funny old thing … funny in that it is received in different ways by different people. Some of us try to avoid it as we may feel it is inappropriately placed in a professional environoment. So the question I pose to you …. does humour have a place in the field of Project Management or more precisely is humour a skillset for project managers?

Humour plays a very important role in our lives, we use it every day to negotiate the aspects of life and in certain cases it can become a distraction from some harsh realities. However, surprisingly there are very few instances of where humour is presented as a skillset within the organisational environment. If we use humour to increase our own personal well-being, then shouldn’t it be assumed that successful project managers can use humour as a skill for improving behaviour and increasing the team synergies? Add to this, that the use of humour can be seen to help in improving the climate at the workplace and ultimately reducing diffusing the level of project stress. So yes, we humour is of immense value to project managers.

Every project manager should acknowledge that a sense of humour is a vital piece of the skillset when “what you don’t want to happen” becomes “what actually happens”. Things are definitely not always going to go exactly as planned, and this is where the project manager needs to diffuse the stress and keep the the project focused. So when the project plan starts to stray, rely on your sense of humour to keep you, and those around you, sane. Otherwise, there will be long periods of stressful anxiety.

Learn to smile at unexpected project change, and you’ll be better off for it. Using humour is not always as simple as smiling and throwing the head back in laughter. There is a little more to it than that and here are some of our guidelines on how to bring humour into the world of project management:

1. Use humour that doesn’t use the audience as the butt of the joke: – Our first rule to using humour is never to make your audience the butt of your jokes. It is not the time to make jokes about audiences. Use observations, distraction or even make yourself the butt of the joke. If you do you use your audience, humour can then be mistaken as a personal attack.

2. Use subjects you’ve earned the right to joke about: – A safe guideline here is that if you don’t know it and you haven’t lived it, then don’t use it. We can all talk and make light of different situations, but the reality is that as a project manager, each of needs to show that we have skin in the game with regard to the subject matter.

3. Using humour effectively often means using yourself as the subject: – Do this in a kind way, making sure it is relevant to you’re the subject and topic. Nobody wants to hear or see you putting yourself down consistently but you can point humour at your quirks. When you laugh at yourself in a balanced, truthful way you are giving the audience permission to laugh with you.

4. Stick to safe subjects: – Stay away from gutter / foul talk and ensure that the humour that is used avoids the taboo subjects such as religion, politics, race, class or sex.

Remember that we humour to diffuse situations and not increase the anxiety or stress of other situations. So is humour useful for project management … YES it is. However, like all disciplines, it needs to be useful and thought about appropriately. The value is there for all project managers and it can be considered to be a core skillset for project managers.

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