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Laughter is the sign of a strong team — and a trustworthy leader

Source | | Bruce Daisley

I once had a boss who had scolded our team: “Now’s not the time to be seen laughing.” Times were tough and it was his hunch that the optics of a team cracking up might not look like they were earnestly endeavoring to turn things round.

But it turns out that humor is a very powerful tool in the workplace. Evidence suggests that it builds trust, forges bonds among colleagues, helps us cope with stress, and inspires creativity and problem solving. In short, laughter is the secret weapon for building great teams.

Psychologist Robert Provine has taken a keen interest in laughter as humankind’s way to synchronize with each other, particularly in the workplace. Just as birds sing to each other, or dogs in neighboring backyards bark at each other, or wolves howl together, so humans laugh to connect with one another, to achieve synchronization.

“Laughter is the quintessential human social signal. Laughter is about relationships … Think of the last time you sat in an audience, laughing and letting waves of laughter wash over you,” Provine wrote. “A pleasant experience — one of life’s best. But consider now the primal nature of the animal chorus and the way the members of an audience synchronize their noises.”

What Provine is talking about here is not about laughing because a joke is funny. It’s about laughing as a form of social bonding and group coordination.

Provine studied and recorded over a thousand laughter episodes in offices. And what he discovered was that laughter wasn’t triggered by humor or hilarious jokes but by seemingly innocuous comments:

“I’ll see you guys later.” “We can handle this.” “I think I’m done.”

“I told you so.” “There you go.” “Must be nice.”

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