I love to laugh! It is one of my favorite activities in life. I enjoy laughing and making others laugh. The youngest child and entertainer in me delights in helping others enjoy themselves with a healthy dose of laughter. However, I have made several mistakes along the way in my attempts at humor and been on the receiving end of failed attempts at humor. This post will deal with outside factors rather than the content of our humor. The content of our humor is a topic for another day.

Think of the following areas as an invisible fence for our humor.  Two areas that serve as an invisible fence for our humor.

1. Humor can benefit from context.

At work, I spoke with someone for the first time who asked that their process be expedited along. This was followed by a comment, “Who can I pay $100 to in order to move things along?” The invisible fence was buzzing in my ear. The context was an unexpected delay in the process and the fear that something may be missed out on. This stressful situation made the words that much more difficult to determine if it was a joke or not. I met this individual a few days later and was confronted with a similar request, “Can I hand someone $50 bucks to get things wrapped up?”

We can debate about the content but the context for these comments are what left me speechless. We were in the midst of a stressful and difficult circumstance with the hope that money could make it all go away. If this same thing were said in another context, it would be easier to determine if this were a joke or not. However, the circumstances and the lack of verbal or non-verbal cues indicated that this was not a joke.

Perhaps you have tried to share a story or heard a story that ended with, “Well, you just had to be there.” This simple phrase is an indicator not of one’s ability to recount a story but that humor is vitally connected with its context.

2. Humor needs the benefit of a relationship. 

A workplace is a delicate situation to make jokes. If you are on the outside of the company (like the above example), then this makes it even more difficult. There is not the benefit of time and shared experiences. Time and experiences help provide context to know someone’s character and personality to filter through the content of what is being said or done.

With the offer of money in my two initial conversations with this person, I could only assume they were joking but had no way to verify this from the context or our relationship. Over time, I began to know this person and understood their sense of humor and personality. I have said many things with my friends and family that I would never say to anyone else. I joke with my co-workers and others around me with freedom because they know who I am. They also know that if I cross the bounds of what is good and helpful that they will let me know. Without the benefit of relationships, we aim at humor and may arrive at offense, knowingly or unknowingly.

Words need to be chosen carefully regardless of our context or relationship. In our humor, we need to be actively aware of where we are and who we are speaking to.