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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Research-Backed Reason Trying to Be Funny at Work Will Get You Ahead

Think back to high school: Who was voted class clown senior year? Who was the funniest person you knew?

Now, was that person well-received by most people? Probably, right? She may not have been the smartest, or even the most popular, but she had a pretty stellar reputation (and the fact that you remember her name today says a lot).

Being the jokester of the office works the same way, says science. (Note: being the funny guy during the job search? Not as much.) According to a recent Inc. article, practicing humor is a great way to show others that you’re leadership material:

“If used successfully, humor also can boost your status at work, persuading others that you’re both more confident and more competent than you may actually be,” says the original study published in the Harvard Gazzette.

And if you’re not known for being funny, have no fear—just making an attempt may be enough to show your self-assurance: “‘What we find is that whether or not the humor goes well, the use of humor, the attempted use, always signals confidence. I’m a confident person, I’m telling a joke,’ [Maurice Schweitzer, a Wharton professor who also participated in the research tells Knowledge@Wharton]. Of course, you can be seen as confident but utterly clueless if your quips are bad enough, but there are still upsides to trying,” says Inc. writer Jessica Stillman.

As you’d expect, the original study does warn that there’s always a line when trying to impress others. As an adult you probably know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate humor, a good joke and a bad one. But that doesn’t mean you always get it right. We’ve probably all said something at some point in our life that landed with a thud. And when you’re with friends, it’s OK to test out material (provided it’s not offensive). However, in the office, if you’re unsure of how something will go over, refrain from saying it.

Warnings aside, this new discovery answers the question of why your office clown gets a lot further than the rest of the pack. It also gives you a bit more freedom to let loose and show your true self at work.

Just remember—trying to be someone you’re not isn’t fun. Take it from Muse writer Jennifer Winter, “Look, we all can’t be comedians, but the good news is, we don’t have to be. Humor can take many forms, and at its most elegant, a simple laugh or smile can do wonders to endear you to your new team.” So keep it SFW, keep it simple, and keep being you.

Photo of people laughing courtesy of Squaredpixels/Getty Images.