Thursday, March 27, 2008

When Humor Hurts

I love humor in the workplace. The idea that it should be purged to reduce the likelihood of harassment complaints has always struck me as half-witted.

There are, however, some types of humor that carry the potential to damage or end careers. Here are the usual suspects:

Sarcasm. This may not even be humor although it wears humor's clothes. More of a veiled attack, sarcasm can wound deeply and it is often remembered years later. I know a lawyer who recalls an off-hand sarcastic remark another attorney had made to her at a bar conference many years ago. That cruel comment has forever frozen its author's image in the victim's mind.

Jokes about race, ethnicity, sex, and religion. Most of these are put-downs. Utter them and although you may not be a bigot, you'll probably sound like one.

Sexual jokes. There's a tackiness factor that surfaces here. I have yet to encounter a workplace that could benefit from more sexual humor.

What we consider to be humorous says a great deal about who and what we are. All of us have said thoughtless and out of character things that may have taken a toll on our associates and are not truly representative of our real selves.

Patterns and extremes, however, are harder to explain and, although meant well, all of the assurances of "Just kidding" will not save them.

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