How Laughter Helps Build Relationships At Work


The modern workplace is an inherently connected domain, with employees expected to collaborate with one another both across their departmental boundaries but also across organisational boundaries. I wrote recently about studies highlighting the crucial role laughter plays in that process. It found that when laughter was present in team meetings, the participants were much more open and collaborative than in meetings with little or no joviality.

This finding has been replicated by a second study, this time from researchers at University College London. The study, published in Human Nature found that the best way to get someone to open up to you is to make them laugh. It emerged that sharing jokes and laughs with someone is a sure precursor to telling that person something rather personal about themselves.

This matters, because opening up is something that many of us find quite challenging, yet it’s crucially important in the formation of new relationships. This is equally the case in the workplace, for things like proposing innovative ideas are often fraught with challenges and can take a brave person to stick their neck out.

The Power of Laughter

The researchers explored the influence of laughter in terms of helping us to open up by splitting participants into groups of four. None of the participants knew one another, and once they were in their groups, they were asked to watch a short 10 minute video as a group, without any chit chat allowed. Some of the videos were comic in nature, while others were more serious affairs, eliciting a degree of emotion response from viewers.

For instance, one featured a stand-up comedy routine with Michael McIntyre (presumably the un-funny video), another video was a nature film from the BBC Planet Earth series, whilst another was a regular training video for golf.

The teams were filmed as they watched each clip to measure the amount of laughter on display, before then taking a simple test to measure their emotional state having watched the video. Each participant was also asked to write a short message to someone in their team to help them bond as a team.

It emerged that when the team had seen a funny video and had laughed together, they subsequently shared much more intimate knowledge about themselves than their peers in the groups who had watched more earnest videos.

The authors suggest this may be down to the physical act of laughing itself, which triggers a release of endorphins, which make us happier and more relaxed.

Interestingly, it emerged that when the participants disclosed personal information, they were usually quite oblivious to having done so. It was only the recipient that was aware that they had received interesting information.

"This seems to be in line with the notion that laughter is linked specifically to fostering behaviors that encourage relationship development, since observer ratings of disclosure may be more important for relationship development than how much one feels one is disclosing," the authors say. "These results suggest that laughter should be a serious topic for those interested in the development of social relationships."

See Also: Laughter in the Workplace: How Important Is It?

If you want closer relationships between you and colleagues therefore, it seems having a good laugh is a good way to make that happen.

Do you often laugh with your colleagues? Do you also have a good relationship with them? Do you think that the laughing is a contributing factor? Your thoughts and comments below please...