Got a Good Joke? Keep It to Yourself

By Larry Galler


In a social gathering, many people often joke. They may kid one another while enjoying an evening together with friends, food, and beverage. We are relaxed among friends, just kidding around. But that’s the social world. The business world is certainly not the same as a social gathering. In a business environment, we might gather over the proverbial water cooler and talk shop. Humor has a place in business, but you have to be careful not to offend.

You have probably heard many jokes that started, “There was this Rabbi, a Priest, and a Minister having lunch together… ” right? Some of these are funny, others are dull, and some are downright vulgar depending on your sensitivity or point of view… and these days some people are very sensitive, critical, and quick to explode and take offense.

A joke in a comedy club or on late night television might cause the audience to become hysterical with laughter while the same joke at a conference table or break room can cause hysteria too, but this type of hysteria may cause someone to talk to Human Resources, an owner, or supervisor. People have been fired or disciplined over insensitive or misplaced humor.

The problem of humor in business is that everyone has some sensitive issues in their psyche and the jokester does not know who is sensitive to which issues, or even what those issues might be. Many people are touchy about religion, gender, identity, racial, political, and national origin issues and can be easy to offend. The offended party might not act offended, they might just laugh along with the joke, but then take their business elsewhere or feel that the jokester is an insensitive, offensive boob and not want to work for or with that person.

This is an age where “political correctness” is or can be a contentious issue and seemingly everyone is sensitive to perceived slights, even though the person telling a joke or making a comment is probably innocently trying to entertain, others may feel put down in some manner.

Business isn’t a barbecue in the backyard or out on the deck. Co-workers or customers are not family or friends. The goals of business are different from our social goals. Some people are easy to offend and easy to anger, so work at being less of a comedian and more sensitive to feelings of others. It’s good business.

Did you hear the one about?




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Larry Galler coaches and consults with high-performance executives, professionals, and small businesses since 1993. He is the writer of the long-running (every Sunday since November 2001) business column, “Front Lines with Larry Galler”. For a free coaching session, email Larry for an appointment – Sign up for his free newsletter at


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