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5 ways to use positive banter & playful language in the workplace

5 ways to use positive banter & playful language in the workplace

Last week, the BBC reported that businesses are increasingly using comedy, humour and laughter as development skills in the workplace.

The power of humour, laughter, fun and happiness is nothing new to us at Laughology.  We first realised the potential of humour and laughter as an effective tool for development in organisations over 10 years ago.

Occasionally, in the past when companies used me in training as a novel way to end a conference, I would leave events to the refrain of “well that was a bit different”. What excites me and my colleagues at Laughology now is that businesses are really waking up to laughter and humour not just as a ‘send-‘em-home-happy’ one-off session but as a real tool for personal and professional development.  Used effectively, laughter and humour enables workers to utilise cognitive skills for overall well-being, happiness and creativity.  No-one wants to work with a grumpy bugger, and yet most of us do. If you don’t it may mean that you are the grumpy bugger!

So why is happiness suddenly so timely?

Here’s the science bit. Neoteny is the study of juvenile traits in adults, traits that last century were sidelined as ridiculous, immature and flimsy.  However, this century they are being recognised as important, prized traits. Employees are looking for qualities such as inquisitiveness, openness, resilience, problem-solving and creativity.  We know this, as these are skills we're asked to develop with graduates and teams.  As we move away from traditional process-driven jobs and into a world of innovation, these cognitive skills are needed more and more. Workers need the ability to learn new skills, adapt quickly and need to be incredibly resilient in an ever-changing world.

As a species we are also living longer. Children born now could live until they are 120 years’ old. Which means happiness and well-being are crucial because businesses will have older, wiser workforces who expect more from their jobs.  If we also factor in that in 2013-14, 131 million days were lost due sickness and absence and that the cost of work-related stress to the UK economy is around £10 billion a year, it’s easy to see why businesses cannot afford to ignore happiness, well-being and the benefits of humour and laughter in workplaces any longer.

Keeping people healthier, both physically and mentally, becomes crucial if we want to keep our colleagues innovating, experimenting, collaborating and as productive as possible.

The use of humour and laughter is not about gags (although every now and again doesn’t hurt). For us at Laughology it is about giving people the confidence and skills to re-frame their experiences in life and work. It’s also about providing the confidence that allows people to innovate and make positive decisions, and giving them the emotional intelligence to bounce back quicker from challenges and disappointment.

When working with businesses, both nationally and internationally, we use the humour thinking toolkit of FLIP to help people take a fresh look at their experiences and develop proactive ways of thinking.

The ‘L’ in FLIP represents Language.  Language is very powerful in shaping the way we react to situations. The words we use impact on the person receiving them. Comedians are brilliant linguists and use the power of language to desensitise subjects, interrupt cognitive flow and create perspective.  Being aware of your language in a work environment and using it to incite fun, positive outlook and laughter will not only impact on how your colleagues engage but can even change the structures of their brain.

Ask yourself and your colleagues what is the language of your business?  I don’t mean the buzzwords that are laminated and stuck up around your office. I mean the real conversations taking place in the loos, by the photocopier and in the pub. These conversations and the language used will give you a massive insight into the general morale of your company.

For instance, if I were to ask you: “Test or quiz?” Which would you prefer?

I know through experience that 99% of you would immediately say ‘quiz’, even though they are in effect the same thing - questions that require answers. But our brains react in different ways based on our previous experiences and emotional state.

Whenever I hear the word ‘quiz’, I immediately imagine that it will be fun, I’ll have friends with me, there may be some drinking and snacking involved and if there is a round on popular music I may win a prize (never happened yet but fingers crossed).

But when I hear the word test, even now at 42 years of age I immediately think: “That’s going to be hard, could fail, might die!”

What is the Language that colours your workplace? What words are you using regularly when you are with your colleagues, your family or friends and how do they affect your experiences and memories both during and after? Most importantly, how do they make other people feel?

As a little take away, here are Laughology’s top five tips to be more playful with language in the workplace


  1. Cut boring and/or confusing jargon out of everyday language or simplify it by creating some new words.
  2. Tell a colleague something about you that they don’t know, or pay someone a compliment. This will promote curiosity and encourage you to go off-script a little and have other conversations that aren’t work-based.
  3. Think of positive banter as verbal tickling. This helps to keep our relationships fresh, sparky and re-energised and foster an environment that enjoys laughter
  4. Strike up conversations where they don’t normally happen, for instance in a lift, on the train or in a queue. You may be surprised by the response.
  5. Make time for laughter. If you see something that makes you laugh, make a note and, more importantly, tell someone, pass it on and laugh until it hurts!

And finally, remember that humour is social self-esteem.

Many of us use humour and enjoy laughter in our everyday lives because it makes us feel good and creates tighter bonds with those around us and yet we will sideline it as we embark upon our grown-up duties in the workplace. If we really want to look after our workers and create environments where people feel good about themselves and what they do, it is imperative that the business community recognises its role in the physical and mental well-being of staff and works to create space and time for all kinds of funny business.

Use the comments box at the end of this blog to leave your thoughts on humour in the workplace - we would love to hear them.

Dave Keeling.

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Sunday, 24 October 2021
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Are organisations and companies just paying lip service?
Join some of the most interesting and respected voices in positive psychology for our Our Big Chat about…Thinking outside the tick box, inaugural webinar. Our two and half hour interactive event will look at the best mental health strategies for organisations, identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Dave McPartlin:

Dave is the Headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School.
Creating the right environment for people and communities to flourish

Sunita Hirani

Sunita is one of the BBC’s key equality, diversity and inclusivity experts.
Why inclusion is essential for mental wellbeing

Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Cary is one the world’s most influential voices in occupational health and wellbeing.
Enhancing Mental Wellbeing at Work. Evidence based strategies for creating a wellbeing culture at work.

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