KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Peter McGraw who is a professor of Marketing at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Good morning, Peter.
PETER McGRAW – Good morning.
KARL MOORE – What is the place for jokes, telling jokes, in the workplace do you think?
PETER McGRAW – Like canned jokes?
KARL MOORE – Well like, here’s a joke I heard, “Three people walk into a bar…” that sort of thing.
PETER McGRAW – I think that those, just like telling stories about what you did on the weekend, telling jokes seems fine to me. Again, it depends though on what are those topics? Are you venturing down a path that you might marginalize someone or set someone apart because of race, religion or gender? A lot of jokes play on those different types of taboos so it really is one of those things you should be cautious about encouraging that kind of joking.
KARL MOORE – How about teasing? Is that something that is appropriate in the workplace?
PETER McGRAW – I think that teasing gets a bad rap and the reason is that people sometimes mistake teasing for bullying and those are very different topics. Bullying is done to try and hurt another person and the bully may find the situation amusing but the victim doesn’t. Teasing actually has a lot of benefits – it creates a connection between two people, it sets boundaries and it creates an enjoyable atmosphere both for the person being teased and the person teasing. The idea essentially is that you only tease people that you like and so it can be a really informal and enjoyable way to communicate potentially difficult topics.
KARL MOORE – It strikes me in teasing that I wouldn’t tease someone about something they are sensitive about. So if they were short or overweight, or something, you wouldn’t tease them about that because they might actually be sensitive about it.
PETER McGRAW – I actually think that teasing works best when it’s teasing them about some behaviour or something that is flexible and not something that is part of their core but rather something that someone does. So I think something like lateness can be a problem in the workplace and certainly can become a problem if it becomes consistent. So you can imagine someone walking into a meeting late and teasing them about that situation. What the teasing can do is say, “It’s not OK for you to do this but it’s not that big of a deal right now.” So they can get the message that this is not OK but it doesn’t ruin the meeting, it doesn’t put them off, and it creates an atmosphere that is playful but also has boundaries.